Much Abides
Part Four
by Antigone

-- "Scratching, clawing screaming corpses,
failed attempts."--
Carfax Abbey, "Soul to Bleed"


The man was short and broad-shouldered, muscles bulging beneath his white tee shirt and too-tight jeans. Unruly dark hair brushed his shoulders. He leaned against the streetside wall of a shop that advertised, among other things, eel and snake blood. The steady stream of passersby ignored him for the most part, but every now and again a young woman (or man) would look twice, consider approaching, then think better of it. It was well for them, for he was not a man but a Malkavian, of all clans the most dangerous, the most deranged. This one was called Hades, god of the underworld, by members of his clan. The name was well deserved.

Drunken laughter assailed his ears and Hades turned to see a group of European tourists stumbling up the street. A young man, drab in his dark jacket and jeans, pointed to the lounging man and whispered to his female companion.

"Hey, mister. Hey, mister." The young man approached Hades, waving a map. "Do you know where... hey," his voice rose as Hades glared and turned his back. "Iím talking to you!" The young woman grabbed the touristís arm, but he jerked away and adopted a bullish pose.

"Are you deaf?" Hades looked up at the taller, gawky man. Their eyes locked.

The young man stared down at Hades, suddenly unsettled. He tried to step back, look away, but the menacing light at the bottom of the shorter manís blue eyes hooked him. Rigid with terror, the tourist prayed for the strength to break the manís hold. But the light was fire, fierce and hot, and he remembered fire long ago, flames licking at him, fire on his skin, fire in his mind, fire...

He tore his gaze away and moved too quickly for anyone to stop him-- into the path of an oncoming bus. As the manís companions rushed to him, Hades leaned back against the wall. "I guess something spooked him," he remarked to no one.

Across the street, two working girls recognized him and nodded at him, giggling together. He acknowledged them with an upward jerk of his chin, then looked away. The younger of the girls, her black hair pulled into pigtails, smirked at the other and crossed the street, sidling up to the man. Laying a hand on his arm, she made him an offer, the same she had every night for months since he had moved into the rooms below the snake shop.

He raised an eyebrow and turned away. The girl was nonplused. Most of the time, he spoke passable Thai, but on occasion he pretended that he could not understand a word of the language. This was probably one of those nights. And since the girlís English was limited to prices and raunchy phrases, she made no further attempt at conversation.

Hades watched her with a bored expression as she went back to her place outside the cathouse. He was sure heíd seen her before, but he couldnít remember where. He was certain sheíd never spoken to him before. He wished that he understood a little Thai, so heíd know what she said.

A motorbike raced up, its rider sporting spiked hair and a chain leading from his ear to his nose. He pulled over and nodded to Hades. "We goiní?" he asked as the muscled man stared in rapt fascination at the bike. "Or we just standiní here all night?"

"Hey, Pinky, you got a bat?" Hades asked the biker.

"Bat? Like a baseball bat? No."

"Lead pipe? Heavy chain? Anything?"

"No, dude, why?"

Growling, Hades strode forward and gripped the bikeís muffler, wrenching it off with a grunt. As the bikeís owner swore angrily, he turned and heaved it at the neon sign blinking in the shop window. The glass shattered and the sign fell to the ground, tubing broken.

Hades turned back and clambered onto the back of the bike, ignoring his shouting companion. "What the hell was that for?" Pinky demanded.

Straddling the bike, the other man shrugged. "It was an ugly sign."

"Oh." Slightly mollified, the biker swung his leg over and started the motor. "Thatís true."

They sped through the streets of Bangkok, purposely coming within millimeters of pedestrians and other vehicles. They cut through a narrow promenade, scattering the crowd.

"What are we going to do tonight, Hades?" the driver shouted.

The shorter man grinned, showing knifelike fangs. "Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to annoy the Prince."

Their destination was less than a kilometer out of Bangkok proper. The two men parked the bike along a stone wall, then effortlessly vaulted over it. Three slavering Dobermans waited on the other side. They growled menacingly and leapt at the intruders, but a quick tussle with Hades proved their end, and they soon lay on the ground, necks broken.

The guards were expecting them and barred the doors to the Princeís house as the madmen stalked up. "Not tonight, boys," the largest guard said in accented English.

"But we gotta see the Prince!" Pinky exclaimed, his face sincere.

"Itís important," added Hades.

"You two can go right back to town. Heís tired of your bullshit. You can leave on your own or I can call the dogs."

"Oh yeah... the dogs." Pinky looked sad. "I think theyíre sick. Theyíre just lying there by the fence."

One of the younger guards stepped toward Pinky and found himself thrown to the ground. Hades hefted the man and carried him three paces away, then gently sat him down and patted him on the head. "Donít move," he growled.

Suddenly, the largest guardís walky-talky crackled to life. The man stepped away and answered. After a moment, he came back, his expression bewildered, and gestured to the smaller guard. "That one," he pointed to Hades, "can go in now." He stepped into Hadesí face. "Donít touch anything or anyone. Donít hiss, or spit, or throw a tantrum, or do any of the things that your kind do so well. If you screw up, Iíll personally trap you in in a light shaft. Do you understand me?"

Hades growled low in his throat and glared, but didnít lunge. He quietly followed the young guard up the steps and into the house.

The Prince was a small Asian man, with short clipped hair and a triangular patch of fluff under his lower lip. He sat behind a desk made of light wood and silently regarded the lesser Kindred.

Finally he spoke. "Youíre one of those psychotic Malkavians who come here every night causing trouble." Hades shrugged. "Donít pretend that you donít understand; you spoke Thai perfectly well two days ago, judging from the colorful invectives I heard. Or is that one of your little tics?"

He picked up a file. "Random selection of victims, poor choice of venue--occasionally in public, very nice-- leaving the bodies, violent behavior toward... well, everyone, except those two little whores across the street, why is that? Shall I add intermittent linguistic ability to the list?"

The Prince stood and circled the other man slowly. "Youíre the one they call Hades?" He chuckled. "Lord of the dead?"

A slow smile spread across Hadesí face as his brain kicked in. "Thatís what mortals call me. The breath that utters my name is the last they draw."

"And your real name?"

"I canít tell you. Youíll cast a spell on me."

The Prince frowned, then stood directly in front of the man. "Thatís a nasty scar on your hand," he noticed, pointing at the left one. "May I see it?"

"You just did."

"May I take a closer look?" The Prince remained very calm.

The hand, though agile and capable of crushing throats, was covered in small, puckered blisters. Though the injury was old it appeared to be very recent, still an angry red that looked as though it might split open at any stress.

"Sunlight?"

"Dunno." Hades snatched his hand away, tucking it behind his back.

The Prince sighed and tried another tactic "Does the name ĎWes Jansoní mean anything to you?"

The man jerked, then shook his head. "No. Itís only a rumor; weíre just good friends."

"How about Tycho Celchu?" Another shake. "Do you have any idea what he might want with Janson?"

"Well, there was that one hot night..."

"Enough. Go away."

"I like it here. I think Iíll stay for a while." Hades settled into a chair.

The Prince grimaced, then motioned to the guard. "Li, get him out of here."

When he was gone, the Prince turned to the shadowy figure lurking in the corner. "Itís him. You were right. I trust that youíll make sure he gets safely to New York and into Celchuís hands." He turned to the window. "Celchu will owe me big for this."

By the time Hades stalked down the steps, Pinky had almost convinced the guards that a band of chickens was menacing children in the city.

"Whassup?"

"Letís go," Hades started for the gate.

"No. I wanna play some more." Pinky began to complain, but felt a hand close around his throat and lift him from the ground. A sharp pain ripped through his side when he was thrown violently against the steps; he blacked out.

When his head cleared, Hades was striding across the lawn to the spot where theyíd parked the motorbike. Pinky caught him just as before he roared off, and leapt onto the back.

The muscled Kindred didnít notice the man clinging to his waist. He didnít really remember attacking Pinky; his mind was focused on one thing.

Iíve got to kill the Prince.

He hoped that he hadnít reacted too blatantly when the Prince threw those names at him, but heíd been shocked and scared. Somewhere deep in his mind, he knew them. They haunted his dreams-- names he could barely remember, faces he couldnít quite see. Heíd wandered the Earth trying to unlock the secrets of those elusive dreams, to find a way out. And now the Prince had thrown his nightmares back in his face. How could he know the names? How!?

His head spun and the bike started to slip, weaving into the traffic of the nearing city. Hades righted it, longing to return to the Princeís house and finish him. Because the only way that bastard could know the demonís names was if *he* were behind the nightmares. That had to be it. All those years, decades, centuries that Hades had wondered, not sure who he was or why he was plagued by these evil dreams; all that time the it was the Prince toying with him, causing his misery!

The pain started again, and Hades gripped his head with both hands. The bike skidded, dumping its passengers in the street; Hades left his friend and wandered into the crowd. He was suddenly on the hunt, sensing his perfect prey in the air. The Prince was wrong, he selected his victims carefully-- they had to fight and claw and scream. They had to make the victory that much sweeter for being hard won.

Yes-- there, a likely prospect. Early thirties, Asian, probably into martial arts. Hades watched the other man for a moment, then slowly wandered over, feigning interest in the junk being sold outside the shops. He glanced up and saw the man inspecting him, and felt a twinge of dissappointment fill his stomach. The man seemed far too easy.

He walked toward the man anyway, keeping a careful eye on the otherís reaction. No sign of fear or discomfort; the man seemed to welcome him. As Hades moved in beside him, the man turned to him and asked, "You want a good time? Fifty dollars."

Hades sighed and turned away, knocking over the person behind him. Figures. First good catch of the day and I gotta throw him back. There had to be someone else nearby...

And there she was. Standing by a fruit stand; tall, very dark, she had that take-no-shit American look. A lady alone in a very dangerous city. She was either stupid or a worthy opponent. Either way, sheíd soon be quite dead.

He let her see him watching. She narrowed her eyes, then turned back to the vendor. Hades slipped through the crowd and stood on the other side of the booth. The woman glanced at the spot where heíd been standing, then stiffened and frantically looked around. Hades crossed his arms and grinned when her eyes locked with his, then he turned and walked away.

With his back to her, he zeroed in on her heart-- it was pounding rapidly and she bore the scent of fear. He waited several minutes, long enough to give her a head start, then shot out after her.

If she were smart, sheíd... yes, sheís heading to the police station. Shall I let you make it there, let you think youíre safe?

He saw her nearly a block ahead, looking about warily. His steps were faster than any mortalís, and he had the added advantage of knowing the city like the back of his hand. Better, really, since his hands often wandered off without him. He knew there were three alleys before she reached the sanctuary of the Police.

She almost made it past the last one when Hades sprang at her, dragging her into the shadows. His hand clamped firmly over her mouth, he pushed her against the wall and let her see him, teeth bared, eyes wild. She struggled and almost managed to push him back.

Hades yelped when she bit down on his hand. Jerking it away, he backhanded her, knocking her to the dirty bricks. The woman screamed hysterically, begging for help. None of the passersby even looked into the alley. Hades bent low, his lips by her ear, and whispered in English, "This is Bangkok. No one gives a fuck what happens to you here."

His body held her to the ground as he gently licked the tears from her face. Pinning her hands above her head, he let the beast take hold. He pierced her neck, savoring the taste of her gushing blood, his hunger fierce and acute.

Her essence flowed over his tongue, filling his mouth, and he was assaulted with the memory of another time, another woman. Tasting her... not blood, no, there was no blood, and she was moaning, her hands clutching the sheets, raising her hips into his face and questing mouth, thighs trembling, filling the room with delicious husky cries, "Wes..."

Hades tore his fangs from the womanís throat and scoured the alley. No one. But the Prince was nearby. He had to be-- it was the Prince who sent the hateful name into his mind, disturbing first his sleep and now his feeding. His prey whimpered, still breathing, but he couldnít finish. She was tainted. He placed a hand on either side of her head and twisted.

Hades fled the alley, not noticing the figures that lurked nearby until he was bound and gagged.

On to Chapter Five