Liz and Vince must solve the mystery of Tim’s death, and the race is on between them and Ruthven as they try to save the city and the paranormal world from his ruthless power. To do that, they enlist the help of their friends in the supernatural world, but in a game of hide-and-seek they find themselves running into more trouble than they planned. Fates intertwine and confrontations are made as the pair of dead-tectives find the clues and solve their greatest case.
Darkness. That’s all I knew during the day now. The energy transfer had sapped a lot of humanity from me and I found it impossible to wake up any earlier than after the setting of the sun. Sometimes it was later than that. I never thought I’d hate sleeping in, but it wasn’t much fun when you didn’t have a choice. The transfer also left me exhausted for two nights after our ghostly devil adventure, but on the third night I awoke feeling alive, or as alive as I ever felt.
I swung my legs over the side of my bed and ran a hand through my neat hair. The benefit to sleeping like the dead is you didn’t move so you didn’t wake up with morning hair, or in my case evening hair. I glanced at the window, and through the thick curtains I could see it was pitch-black outside. The sun had completely set at least thirty minutes before. I really missed that bright, blinding ball of burning mass.
I got up and shuffled my way to the living room where I found Vince on the couch. In his hand was the mysterious note from Tim. “Any luck figuring it out?” I asked him.
He set the note on the coffin table and shook his head. “None at all.”
I plopped myself beside him and looked at the scrap of paper. “‘Where it began so shall it end,’” I read aloud. I furrowed my brow and my eyes flickered to Vince. “So what we have to do is figure out where something began and we’ll find what he’s been hiding from us?” I guessed.
“So it seems,” Vince agreed.
“Sounds easier than it is,” I added as I picked up the paper. I turned over the scrap and sighed. “Damn Tim and his riddles. He always did like trying to be smarter than everyone else in the room.” Vince plucked the note from my fingers and stuffed it into his coat. I scowled at him. “Hey! I wasn’t done not figuring that out.”
“If you are rested enough, there is another who may know the answer to the riddle,” Vince told me.
I raised an eyebrow. “Who were you-” My eyes lit up. “Bat!”
“Yes. We have tried our wits against Tim’s message and found ourselves wanting. Perhaps Bat may have the answer. He knew Tim longer than I,” Vince revealed.
I jumped to my feet, grabbed Vince’s arm, and dragged him toward the door. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s get this riddle solved and finally find out what Tim’s been hiding from us!”
We drove to the secret garage entrance into Bat’s warehouse, but Vince slowed to a stop fifty yards from the wall that contained the hidden door. I glanced between Vince and the door. “What? The car get scared or something?” I teased.
His pursed lips and narrow eyes killed my merry mood. “There is something wrong.”
I followed his gaze to the wall and noticed the slim outline of the entrance. That meant the door was slightly ajar. “Maybe the door needs some fixing,” I suggested.
Vince shook his head. “Bat would never tolerate anything broken, even in Tim’s shop.”
I leaned against my seat and gestured to the road. “So what do we do? Sit here all night waiting for something to happen or go find the trouble ourselves?”
“We will find the trouble,” Vince replied as he opened his door and hopped out.
I joined him outside the car and together we walked silently toward the ajar garage door. No lights shone through the thin windows, showing the lights in the garage were off. They’d never been off before except when trouble was afoot. Vince pressed his hand against an inconspicuous brick and the stone sank an inch into the structure. The fake brick released a mechanism and the garage door rose two feet before Vince released the brick and the door stopped.
He led the way beneath the door and into the dark shop. Our vampire eyes allowed us to see the interior, and it was a mess. I’m not talking the usual mess, but complete devastation. All the tools were scattered across the floor and the pegboards were tossed into a pile of ruin. The disorderly piles of oil and gas were overturned and their contents leaked across the floor. The stairs leading up to the loft were all broken, and the door that led to Bat’s lab sat askew on its hinges.
“Did Bat decide to redecorate?” I whispered to Vince.
He shook his head. “This was none of Bat’s doing.” He strode over to the askew door and pulled it partly shut to show the back. Across the door was a long claw mark.
I gasped. “Werewolves?”
“Undoubtedly,” Vince agreed. He opened the door and the entrance toppled off its hinges and clattered to the floor.
We stepped into the lab and I cringed when I saw the same destruction as in the garage. The tables were overturned, and the vials and beakers lay shattered on the ground. Papers, some half-burnt, lay in scattered piles and there were long claw marks across the outer walls of the small white room. The door of the room was broken in half and lay in pieces just inside the entrance.
Vince strode forward to the white room and I quickly followed. I listened for any sounds of danger, but heard nothing. “You don’t think they’re still here, do you?” I whispered to him.
“No. The attack took place a few days ago,” he told me.
“How can you tell?”
“By the canine scent of the werewolves.”
I lifted my nose into the air and wrinkled it. “They do smell like dogs,” I commented. Vince went directly for the blood refrigerator and opened the door. “I know you’re a vampire, but is this really the time?” I scolded him. Vince ignored me and grabbed the panel on the door. He wrenched the two parts of the door apart to reveal a small, square secret compartment. I blinked at the hidden space as he snatched a slip of yellowed paper from its walls. “I’ve heard of strange diets, but hiding a piece of paper for eating later is a little ridiculous,” I muttered.
“If anything was to happen to him he would leave a note here,” Vince explained as he unfolded the aged, wrinkled paper. His frown deepened as his eyes brushed over the contents.
I strode over to stand by his side. “What is it? He’s not in trouble, is he?”
“I’m not sure. I can’t read the message,” Vince admitted.
I glanced at the paper and raised an eyebrow. On the parchment was a bunch of squiggly lines and exclamation points. “Uh, what language is this? Gibberish?”
“As far as I can surmise, yes,” he replied.
My eyes flickered up to his serious face. “Seriously? You’ve known each other for how long and you still can’t read his handwriting?”
“This is Bat’s handwriting, but the language is not any I know of him using,” Vince informed me.
“So we don’t really know if this is a secret message from him or if we found his lost grocery list,” I commented.
Vince stiffened and his head whipped up. He stuffed the paper into his jacket and pursed his lips. “We should leave.”
I stiffened. His voice was stern and had a quick march to his words. “What is it?”
“We are not alone.”
I looked around the room. Nothing stirred except for a few slips of paper on the ground. “Well, if you call the broken furniture company, sure, but-” It was ‘but nothing’ for the shadows as many of them warped into dark, humanoid figures with glowing yellow eyes. They were like the twisted shadows of dwarves in that their arms and legs were impossibly long compared to their thin, short bodies. I gasped and stumbled back against Vince. He grasped my upper arms and held me still. “What the hell are those?” I asked him.
“Doppelgangers employed by Ruthven. They are his most powerful creations aside from Field,” Vince told me.
The creatures stretched their shadowy legs toward us and I cringed when I noticed their hands were curved like the talons of eagles. “So why hasn’t he used them before?” I pointed out.
“They will only deign to be summoned in the matters of the arcane,” he explained.
“And that means what exactly?”
“They have been summoned to steal Bat away for some purpose.”
“Uh-huh, and how do we un-summon them?”
“There is no way but to defeat them with like magic,” Vince told me.
The creatures drew closer and more slid from the wall behind the refrigerator door. They forced us into the center of the room and stretched out their taloned hands toward us. “Um, you don’t happen to have any in your coat, do you?” I squeaked.
“Not in my coat,” he replied. Vince held up his ring hand and a brilliant light poured from the center crystal.
The creatures threw their arms over their faces to block the light, and strangled, cat-like screeches erupted from their throats. Vince swept me into his arms and shoved us through the doppelgangers that blocked the door. Literally through them. They were like the shadows they poured from, and when we swept through their bodies it was like being dunked in cold water.
We sped into the main portion of the warehouse to find the entire building was covered in the creatures. They hissed and slithered towards us on their long limbs. Vince raced us into the garage, but that, too, swarmed with the arcane creatures. The exit was blocked by the fiends. Their lithe bodies swayed to and fro as they walked toward us. Their numbers were a dozen deep as more poured from the shadows.
Vince set me down and raised his ring above his head. The bright light shone across the room. The creatures the light touched disintegrated into tiny floating ashes. The light destroyed many of our foes, but not all of them. The doppelgangers at the front protected their brethren at the rear, and the lines continued to sway toward us.
Vince turned to me. “Get on my shoulders and use your ring,” he ordered me.
“But my life!” I reminded him. If I used the ring my humanity would be sucked from me.
“That is what is at stake!” he argued.
He knelt down and I reluctantly climbed onto his shoulders. The action forced his ring hand lower, and the extent of the light dimmed. The doppelgangers rushed forward. Vince stood, and I was well above where his hand could reach. I lifted my ring as he did the same, and our combined lights burst forth and swept over the room. The creatures hissed and retreated into the shadows from whence they came. In less than half a minute the room was empty except for us.
Vince knelt down so I could climb off him. I stepped down, but a sudden wave of exhaustion swept over me. My legs buckled and I fell forward. Vince caught me in his strong arms and pulled me against him. His worried face looked down at me, but I managed to smile back at him.
“Remind me not to do that again any time soon,” I quipped.
He didn’t smile. “It may not be avoidable. If Ruthven is desperate enough to call forth so many doppelgangers then he will use everything at his disposal to find Bat and ourselves.”
I rubbed my woozy head. “What’d he want Bat for, anyway? I mean, he’s just a crazy old coot, isn’t he?”
“Bat holds a great deal of alchemist secrets that Ruthven would be very pleased to acquire,” he told me.
I pushed away from him and raised an eyebrow. “Like what kind of secrets?”
Vince held up one hand and the ring on his finger glistened even in the dim light of the garage. “The secret to these.”