The second hand came to a stop with a boom that Hayden felt in his eardrums but didn't hear. He shuddered. His breath caught in his chest, and no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't free it.
"Time's up, detective." The voice had changed. It was the voice from the 911 tapes. It was the voice on the answering machine tape that had goaded Taren to come after him. "I can't say I'm disappointed in you. You've done well so far, but it's not over. When I wake them up, we'll all know the truth about you."
"You won't get away with this," Hayden said.
Tyler laughed at him. "Your squire said the same thing. How noble. How ineffectual."
"You should have considered things more carefully. You don't know who you're dealing with."
"No matter. I know which one you are. Tisiphone, the blood avenger. That's how you started; that's how you will end."
"Don't you get it, asshole? That's exactly why you can't get away with this. We're coming for you. I hope you're ready."
Sky was still asleep when Hayden got up, and Hayden decided the best thing to do was leave him to it. He checked on Sky one last time before he left for his office, and his stomach rolled. He didn't want to think about what his stomach was trying to tell him, and he'd do anything in his power to make it a liar for once.
Once he got to the office, he concentrated on trying to return all the phone calls he'd been ignoring since Taren's death. Most of his clients were understanding, but he told them all he could no longer handle their cases, he was sorry for the inconvenience, he would gladly refund any or all payment he'd already taken and recommend another private investigator to handle their business. A few of them said it was no big deal; they'd wait for him because he was the best in the business and not to worry about the money. A few said they'd be by for their refunds in the afternoon. One or two threatened to call the Better Business Bureau or to sue him or something of that nature. He wanted to get angry, but he tuned them out, told Julian to mail those checks and hoped he hadn't done irreparable damage to his reputation.
Conrad arrived around ten, looking as if he hadn't slept in days. He left hand was wrapped in gauze, and he avoided using it to do more than pointing. "I think I have more than enough concrete evidence to put Dafoe away for a long time, even if he didn't kill anyone," he said. "I've come across some crazy people before, but this is padded cell and heavy sedation kind of shit."
"It almost doesn't matter," Hayden said.
"Pretty calm all things considered. He was still asleep when I left. I had a hell of a time getting him out of the station. They were gonna arrest him."
"For killing Kyle?"
"Yeah. But they didn't have the weapon. He was shot in the head. I don't think Sky's ever fired a gun."
"Well, at least we can put a stop to Sky's next psycho boyfriend before it goes too far."
"What did you do to your hand?"
Conrad glanced down at his wrapped hand. "I burned it."
"That was smart."
"Let me put that another way. It burned itself."
"I was up pretty late digging around for Dafoe's dirt. My coffee got cold. I went to stick it in the microwave, but I didn't have to. My hand just kinda flared up. So I spent the rest of the night in the emergency room getting pieces of the mug pulled out of my skin and getting weird looks from the nurse."
"That's ... interesting. Sky had no fingerprints and said he'd walked through a closed door at one point. And I seemed to scare the hell out of people just by looking at them."
"You do that anyway."
"True, but I don't normally see their arm hairs standing on end when I walk by."
"Okay. So we're turning into mutant super heroes or something. I am not putting on tights and a cape."
"It's not super powers. There's no such thing as super powers. It's some kind of magic."
"Good segue." Conrad opened his bag and gingerly pulled out a file folder. He laid it on Hayden's desk and flipped it open. "Tyler Aaron Dafoe, originally from Pittsburgh, graduated from Penn State with a degree in business management; by all outward appearances, a normal guy, a decent guy, not anyone you'd look at and get creepy vibes from. But early in high school, he developed an interest in magic. Everyone already knew he was gay. He was trying to find a way to fit in, like any teenager. Except he really seemed to have a talent for this stuff. I couldn't get more than vague information about the coven or what happened. His juvenile records were sealed. The only other witch I found from that group wouldn't talk to me. Newspaper articles alluded to some kind of human sacrifice. No one died. The sacrifice was willing, and the ritual was stopped before the kid got sliced up. But they had practiced sacrifice techniques on goats and sheep, which meant they were stealing livestock. The farmers reported their livestock missing, and that started the investigation. Then it all went away.
"Dafoe was still practicing magic in college, but apparently, he was getting into stuff his friends didn't care for and they left him to it. What exactly it was, I don't know. Lots of tight lipped, terrified people on that front. Summoning was what I gathered.
"But all that's tame compared to what I found out about the why. When he was nineteen, he watched a group of frat boys beat his boyfriend to death. They beat him up, too, and he knew who they were. When he could talk again, he told the cops. Nothing was done. So you've got a pissed off, scared wizard with enough juice to do some truly wicked shit.
"But Dafoe is emotionally scarred. He went to therapy for a long time. Received shock therapy for about six months, has been on all kinds of anti depressants and anti anxiety drugs, almost didn't finish college. Not long after he got his first permanent job, there was a series of murders that still hasn't been solved. In each case, the victim had been drained of blood. All but the last one also had been involved in some kind of crime and not punished. There were seven victims in all over a span of about nine months, five of which made the pentagram shape on a map. The sixth victim was the younger sister of a homicide detective named Blake Larson. She was found at the sinkhole in the middle of the pattern. Larson was the seventh victim, and then it stopped.
"Larson's shift lieutenant retired not long after that, and she told me more than I could have ever hoped to get. She damn near read off the autopsies and all the case files, every note Larson ever made on the case, everything. And it's eerie how similar it is to what we've got here.
"The investigation cooled off after nearly a year. They never found anything more than what Larson had found. But when I did a little research, I found that Dafoe had worked with some of the victims and two of them were the frat boys who'd killed his boyfriend.
"It's been four years since Larson was killed. Dafoe moved here a year and a half ago. All nice and quiet. A few lovers, including Eric Riley, victim number one, and Graham Hardy, victim number four. I went over our case files again, and Taren did talk to Dafoe about Hardy. He even made a note that for some reason he couldn't put his finger on, he didn't like Dafoe. I think he would have gone back to Dafoe if given a chance, and he probably wasn't surprised to find Dafoe in the mineshaft."
Hayden stared at the pages Conrad had laid out in front of him and tried to get his mind around what it all meant. He was disappointed that he hadn't done the work himself, but he knew the real work had yet to be done. He still had questions, though the answers wouldn't have done him any good. All that mattered was vengeance. That wouldn't stop the dreams, though. Like the phantoms that haunted the shadows when it stormed, the dreams would never leave him. He would always see Meghann and Taren on that playground and wonder if he'd done enough.
Julian went out to check on Sky and get some lunch. As she was leaving, Patrick came in. His sallow skin was grey with anger, and he didn't seem to be in the mood to keep his cool. He stood in the doorway, glaring at Hayden and Conrad, until he heard the sound of Julian's car leaving the parking lot.
"I'm glad to have found both of you in one place," Patrick said. "It saves me the trouble of tracking down someone who never goes to work."
"It's not a desk job, Commissioner," Conrad said.
"Somehow, I don't think you'd be less annoying if it were a desk job."
"I do my best."
"Let me get right to the point. I'm sure you're both aware that several case files were stolen not long ago, along with other items pertaining to the cases Detective Chase was working before his death. But you may not be aware that I know who's responsible for the theft, and I'm more than positive the distraction you two put up that night was for the benefit of the thief.
"With that in mind, I wanted to personally issue one final warning. Lieutenant Taylor has been far too soft. He wants you to solve the case. But I would still prefer that civilians not be involved. I can make this difficult for both of you, or we can cooperate and be allies. I want the case files returned, and I want that thief in jail. If you don't turn him in, I'll take it out on you two."
Hayden lit a cigarette. He smoked, contemplating different ways to tell Patrick to go to hell. Patrick trembled. Hayden waited until beads of sweat popped out on Patrick's forehead. "I'll bring you the case files tomorrow morning," he said. "We'll be done by then."
"And the thief?"
"Good luck trying to arrest a shadow."
"I'm warning you, Knight."
"I know you are. But I can't turn him in. If you know who he is, go arrest him."
The ashes in Patrick's face reddened. His mouth curled and quivered. "The only reason I haven't tossed your ass in jail yet is that I want this killer stopped as much as you do," he said.
"Then let me do what I need to do."
Patrick started to say something, stopped and glared again. "I want the files on my desk by eight." He turned and stalked out, slamming the front door behind him.
"That was unpleasant," Conrad said.
"It could've been worse," Hayden said.
"Does he really know who stole the files?"
"No. He's bluffing. And he knows I know that."
The phone rang a few minutes later, and Julian told Hayden that Sky was gone. There was no point in looking for Sky. They'd never find him. Hayden knew he'd meet them at the mineshaft later that night. He had no choice.
They came to a deep pit up from which flowed the river of blood. They stood on the edge and gazed down. What they beheld appalled them.
Upon a stone altar stained by sacrifices lay a body, and from a slit in the torso, the river spilled. Behind the altar were three towering structures, each in the likeness of the Furies. Inside each was a cast iron vat full of the blood drained from the sinners they'd found along the way. A man in the guise of Nemesis was standing beside the altar, calling out to them, imploring them to take up the terrible weapons he'd made for them and impose justice on the world as they once had.
"An imposter," Tisiphone said.
"A trickster," Alecto said.
"A sinner," Megaera said. "He must be punished."
They descended into the pit.
The sensation of being drawn down into the mineshaft was stronger than it had been before. When Hayden closed his eyes, he could see smoky tendrils stretching towards him. The tips bloomed into hands, and cold fingers passed through him as they tried to pull him towards the stone door marked Erebus. As they skittered across his skin, he thought of bones covered with a thick layer of frost. He stepped back from the mouth of the mineshaft until he couldn't feel them.
Something brushed against his left arm. He turned, half expecting to see the shadow he'd seen outside his office. He put his hand on his gun, but the shadow he found wasn't evil. Sky was leaning against a tree trunk, studying Hayden's watch.
"Why the hell do you do that?" Hayden asked.
Sky shrugged. "You're an easy mark, and I don't have a watch," he said.
"You could just ask what time it is."
"That's no fun."
"Are you okay?"
Sky looked at the opening of the mineshaft. His eyes were hard and angry. "I will be," he said. "We all will be."
Hayden wasn't sure about that, but he was sure that they would be putting an end to whatever Tyler thought he was trying to accomplish.
Conrad arrived ten minutes after Sky. Crash and Hurricane had done everything they could think to do to keep him from leaving. In the end, he had bribed them with treats, had to promise them more treats and not bring his gun.
They stood at the entrance and stared into the blackness. The cold hands pulled on all of them. "Let's go," Hayden said, and they let the call lead them down.
As they approached the door, it began to slide open. When they passed it, it slid shut again. Hayden turned around to look at it. To the right of the door was a stone wheel attached to cables and pulleys that were in turn connected to the door. The wheel was covered in pentagrams, dried blood and bits of charred flesh. Hayden's stomach lurched.
"How the hell did he get this down here?" Conrad asked.
"He made it himself," Sky said. "You can buy bags of concrete at any hardware store."
"Wouldn't that much have looked suspicious?"
"I don't think so. It's just concrete. You can't make bombs out of it."
Torches lit the length of the shaft. The farther they went, the colder it got. Not even the heat from the torches cut through the damp chill. A hundred yards in, they came to another concrete door with a large circled pentagram in the center of it. Unlike the first door, it didn't open to welcome them.
Sky stepped up to it and studied the edges. It was sealed tight enough that no light came from the other side. There was no wheel, and the door had no handles. Sky pressed his left hand into the center of the pentagram, and the circle sank into the door. When it stopped, Sky stepped back, and the door lifted.
"I was hoping that wouldn't happen," Conrad said.
Hayden drew his gun. "Stay behind me," he said and walked through the door.
The first thing he saw was the shapeless black mass on the altar and the streams of red that ran from it. Whatever it was, it wasn't human, but he couldn't register anything beyond that. He looked up. The three figures against the back wall weren't statues. They looked too real. Their fingers were trembling, and their eyes rolled towards the door as Hayden, Conrad and Sky stepped through.
Hayden wrenched his attention away from the figures and scanned the room. He saw the shelf where the body parts sat. He saw an aquarium full of writhing black snakes that twisted themselves into knots. A dark blob of shadows hovered in a corner. Hayden winced as the cold knot in his stomach clamped down and rolled over. The shadows moved towards them. Hayden raised his gun as a human figure stepped out of the shadows.
Tyler opened his arms to them and smiled. "I've been waiting a long time for this moment," he said. "Welcome to your destinies."
Hayden wanted to pull the trigger, but his hands were shaking. He knew he'd miss. He couldn't afford to miss.
Tyler dropped his arms. His smile widened. "You won't shoot me, detective. You can't. You know what I'm giving you, and you know you should take it. Look at them." He turned his head towards the Furies. "They're ready for you. They're ready to punish all the wrong doers. And there are so many. There's so much work to do."
"How ... how are we supposed to use them?" Conrad asked.
Tyler waved his hand. Doors opened in the Furies' chests. In the dim lights, they could see masses of pumps and tubes running from large vats to the extremities. "It's simple, really. The blood of sinners gives them life. Your power drives them. Once you're inside and bonded to them, nothing will stop you from making this world right. The sinners will be punished for their crimes. The innocent will be protected. The dead will be avenged." The Furies extended their hands.
Tyler turned away from the Furies and headed towards the altar. He shoved his hands into the shape that lay there, and then lifted his bloody hands over his head. The air cracked. It wasn't quite an explosion that followed, but it ripped open the corpse and rocked the walls. The forces rolled towards Hayden, Conrad and Sky like waves of nuclear fire. When it touched them, everything went black.
It was the same as the moment at the police station but stronger. A hot fist walloped Hayden's stomach and sent lightning crawling up his spine. He thought he hit the ground. He couldn't feel anything but the crackling in his back that spread through his muscles and settled behind his eyes. He smelled burning flesh and opened his eyes.
He was still standing, but the room seemed tilted at a strange angle. His gun wasn't in his hand, and Conrad and Sky were no longer standing behind him. Conrad had backed towards the wall, staring at his smoldering hands, but it wasn't a look of fear or pain. He knew what to do with his hands.
Sky had vanished. Tyler was backing away from the altar, yanking a knife out of the dead black shape as he did. He turned to the Furies, and Hayden saw why the room was askew. One of them had stepped away from the wall and leaned towards Tyler. Large drops of blood fell from her eyes. Her right hand was cupped and lifted to her shoulder, holding Sky well out of Tyler's reach. Sky held onto her thumb and pointed Hayden's gun at Tyler.
"Megaera," Tyler said. "You understand, don't you?"
Megaera raised her free hand and pushed the altar over. As the sacrifice flopped to the ground, Hayden realized that it was a sheep. He should have been relieved that it wasn't a person, but for some reason, it only made him angry.
"No," Sky said. "We don't understand." He emptied the gun at Tyler. Most of his shots plowed into the ground at Tyler's feet. One bored through his instep. Others grazed his thighs and arms. He was too bewildered to cry out or move. Sky dropped the gun and vanished again.
Hayden moved towards Tyler. Tyler looked around frantically for Sky but froze when he caught Hayden's eyes. His face went white. "You made a big mistake," Hayden said.
"No, it wasn't a mistake," Tyler said. "You were the right ones this time. You're supposed to enact vengeance and justice. You're supposed to want blood!"
"We do. Yours."
"But I ... I called you. I woke you up. You can't kill me. I'm Nemesis. I point the finger, and you're supposed to punish the wicked! Not me!"
Sky reappeared behind Tyler. Hayden couldn't see what Sky had in his hand, but he never got a chance to use it. Tyler spun around, swinging the knife at Hayden as he did. The tip of the blade caught Hayden's forearm, ripping through his flesh. Tyler finished his turn by ramming the knife deep into Sky's stomach.
"Sky!" Hayden shouted, lunging towards Tyler as Megaera lurched and fell on her side. The tubes sprung loose from the vat, spraying blood high into the air. Hayden snaked his wounded arm around Tyler's neck. Tyler pulled the knife out of Sky. He stabbed backwards, trying to catch Hayden anywhere he could. Sky went down to his knees, pressing his hands against his stomach.
From the back of the chamber, Conrad screamed, "Fucking son of a bitch!" Hayden's ears rang at the sound of Conrad's hands slapping the stone wall hard enough to make the whole room shake. Lines of fire shot around the room from the impact points. The flames crawled up the walls and zinged across the floor. The aquarium shattered and was engulfed. Hayden could've sworn he heard the snakes screaming as the smell of their singed flesh filled the air. Megaera and the sheep were consumed. Hayden wondered if they would be able to get out alive, but there was no smoke from the fire; just searing heat.
Tisiphone reached down and wrapped one finger around the top of Tyler's head. Hayden let go, and Alecto's hand clamped down on Tyler and squeezed. Tyler screamed as something popped. Dark blood ran over Alecto's pale fist. She leaned towards him, peeling her lips back from her teeth in a hideous sneer. Hayden picked up his empty gun and pressed it to Tyler's temple.
"Please make them stop," Tyler said. Blood spilled over his lips and down his chin.
"We're only doing what you wanted," Hayden said. "Sinners must be punished, right?"
"No, you were the right ones. It was supposed to work this time."
"I told you we'd come for you."
"Pull the trigger, please, make it stop."
"So you can stop suffering? I don't think so."
"Now you know how it feels to be on the wrong end of vengeance." Hayden pulled the trigger.
Tyler screamed at the empty click. If there were any words, they were incoherent. Tisiphone twisted her finger, and Tyler's screaming ceased.
Hayden put his gun away. In his head, three voices whispered, "Let us burn."
Conrad looked up from his futile efforts to stop Sky's bleeding. "Did you hear that?" he asked.
"Yeah," Hayden said. "We need to get out of here."
Smoke was pouring out of the mouth of the mineshaft by the time the reached the surface, and a blood red sun was fighting through a layer of blue haze. Hayden stopped and sat down to catch his breath, holding Sky across his lap. Sky was still alive, but his blood was cold. He had a few minutes at most, and Hayden felt sick. Sky opened his eyes and managed to focus on Hayden. "I still have your watch," he said.
"Keep it," Hayden said.
"I don't think I need it any more."
"Sky - "
"Did I lose my cross?"
"No, here." Hayden pulled a small silver cross out from under Sky's shirt and placed it in Sky's open palm.
Sky clutched it. "I thought it fell off."
Hayden shook his head. Tears blurred his vision. He felt Sky's fingers press against his cheek.
"Look, they're waiting for me," Sky said. "I'm coming home."
Sky smiled, then his eyes glazed over and his hand fell to his chest. Hayden pushed Sky's eyelids down and looked up at Conrad. Conrad had his hands over his face, and his shoulders were trembling.
"It's over," Hayden said. But somehow, it felt like it was just the beginning.