The Scent of Darkness (PG-13)

EmilyH

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The Scent of Darkness

Part 1/11

By Emily M. Hanson

General disclaimers apply. The characters of Forever Knight belong to Sony/TriStar, they don't belong to me. Any characters appearing in this story that are not recognizable from any TV show are mine. They may be borrowed, but please ask for permission. I sometimes make references to other TV shows such as the X-Files. I don't claim ownership of those shows or characters either. FOX owns the X-Files as far as I know. This is not a crossover series, though possibilities certainly exist.

No copyright infringement is intended.

Thanks very much to my beta-readers and guinea pigs: Alexa Knight and Tim Phillips for your help and valuable contributions.

* * * * *

"Hi Dad, I'm home from basketball practice!" Jenny exclaimed, as the screen door loudly clattered shut. There was a clunk as she dropped her sneakers and backpack on the floor.

The smell of sweaty shoes filled the air and mingled with that of Jenny's favorite fruit-scented shampoo. It was not a good combination, especially considering Don Schanke's sense of smell was excellent now that he was a werewolf.

"Kiddo, you're going to have to do something about those shoes. Put them outside, please."

"They're not *that* bad."

"Wanna make a bet? I can smell them from here."

Jenny sighed. She didn't stand a chance of winning that argument, and she knew it.

"And whatever you do, don't go downstairs. Nick's sleeping in the basement."

"All right."

A minute later, Schanke heard the very satisfying sound of his daughter coming in from outside. Then she walked into the kitchen to grab a can of soda pop from the fridge. There were several bottles of cow's blood way in the back, which had not been present earlier, obviously for Nick. When Jenny turned around and saw her dad for the first time since that morning, he was reading a file and munching on a raw steak.

"Moo."

Schanke looked up. "Huh?"

"Moo," Jenny said again, and giggled. "I think your food just moved. Look, there it goes again."

"Very funny. How was basketball?"

"Good."

"Do you have lots of homework?"

"I have to read a book for English class. It's looong."

"Okay."

Schanke returned to his work as Jenny went upstairs. Now this was an interesting case. It read like an X-Files episode or maybe a Stephen King novel. It was one of the weirdest files he'd ever seen. Don had seen some pretty strange things working with Nick even before the news about vampires came out.

All of the victims had spontaneously combusted, but none of them were vampires. At least one of the victims had been wearing a cross necklace, which meant that that the killer couldn't have been a vampire. Nick thought that there might be darker forces than vampires involved, but there was no proof. All of the victims except for one had been female. The other victim was a college athlete, unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How did you find somebody who could kill without touching anyone, and didn't leave the smallest trace of DNA at the crime scene? Now that Tracy was helping to bring down the backlog of cases, Schanke and Nick had the time to actually look at some of them. Over the past couple of days, Nick actually worked overtime.

Myra came home about half an hour later with her arms full of shopping bags, and made an exaggerated grimace as she noticed what her husband was eating. "Dear, please wash your hands when you're done. The rest of us don't have superhuman immune systems."

"Okay."

Myra set the bags on the counter. "Working on a new case?"

"It's a week old. Haven't had time to look at it until now."

"Oh. Is it another strange one?"

"Yeah. This one's even giving Nick a run for his money. He's got a hunch or two, but we need evidence." Don stared at the file when a thought struck him. "Myra, do we have a city map somewhere around here?"

"I have one in the van."

Schanke got up, washed his hands, and then went to the garage. He pulled out the map and found the section he was looking for. All the locations from the file were clustered in a radius. It wasn't a perfect circle, but it was good enough for him. He brought the map into the house and grabbed a highlighter. "X marks the spot. Now all I have to do is tell Nick . . ."

"Tell me what?"

Schanke and Myra turned to see Nick standing at the top of the stairs, grinning.

"Our spontaneous combustion victims all died within a six block radius, with the exception of two people."

"What's in the center of the radius?" Nick asked.

"If we were at work, I could just punch it into the computer. I know the area, sort of. It's Chinatown on a small scale," Schanke replied.

"Okay. As soon as the sun goes down, let's head over there."

"Right. Uh, Nat dropped off some dinner for you, it's in the fridge."

"Great. I won't have to make an emergency pit stop at the lab."

Myra, who was putting groceries away, found what Nick wanted. "Here you are."

"Thanks. Uh, do you mind?"

"Go ahead. I've gotten used to Donny eating raw steak. Drinking blood isn't that far behind. Do you need a corkscrew?"

"Nope." He grinned impishly, bit into the cork with his fangs, and spit it out.

Schanke just about doubled over laughing. "You'll have to show me that trick sometime."

Myra had a completely astonished expression on her face. This was the first time she had ever seen the vampire's fangs. He didn't look nearly as frightening as she'd expected. "That must come in handy."

"Haven't needed a corkscrew in over 700 years," Nick replied, his speech only slightly distorted by the fangs.

"I bet not," Don replied, still laughing.

Jenny came down the stairs at that moment. She stopped in her tracks as she saw her parents and Nick in the kitchen. Then the girl burst out laughing.

"What's so funny, munchkin?" Schanke inquired.

"Nothing."

"Come on, spill it."

"Just that Nick doesn't look half as scary with fangs as you do, and he was all worried about me having nightmares."

"What, you don't think I look scary?" The vampire replied, pretending to be hurt.

"If it was dark, and I couldn't see anything else except your fangs, then maybe. But not now." Jenny went straight to the fridge and took out another can of pop.

Nick exchanged mischievous glances with Schanke, who nodded. The vampire waited until the girl was halfway to the stairs before sneaking up on her.

"Boo!"

The girl whirled around. "You are too good at sneaking up on people, you know that?"

Nick laughed. "Natalie says the same thing. What are you reading?"

"Moby Dick. It's for English class."

"That's a good book."

"It's too long. I liked the movie better." Jenny turned and went upstairs.

Nick gulped down the contents of his bottle and went into the kitchen. By then, the sun was almost down.

"I guess it's time to get moving," Schanke said.

Myra kissed her husband. "Have a good evening, sweetie."

"Thanks. You, too."

* * * * *

End of Part 1

Part 2/11

***************************

Since they had to stop at the police station to sign in, Schanke quickly checked his voicemail. The message was from Elliott McBride, a college student he'd met while investigating a recent case, and discovered that Elliott was a werewolf like himself. The kid left a brief and vague message implying that the pack had leader had been impressed with Schanke so far, and wanted to introduce him to the pack.

Schanke's amazing return several weeks ago had been covered in the local media. At the time, the knowledge of vampires' existence was also coming out. The reporters were having a field day lately, so he wasn't too surprised that the pack leader knew about him. He wondered if this local pack was any better than the one he'd met before.

"Are you going?" Nick Knight asked.

"I don't think so," Schanke replied.

"Why not?"

"I've had enough of werewolf packs."

That was an understatement. The pack in Germany had kidnapped Schanke from Toronto. Then they'd kept him prisoner on a starvation diet for months, and finally made him one of them without so much as a hint of why they'd done it. One night, Don managed to escape. He'd been forced to kill another werewolf in self-defense. Though he wasn't angst-ridden like Nick, he regretted it. Schanke was sure he hadn't been chosen at random, but he'd probably never know why. Needless to say, Schanke wasn't too enthralled with the notion of joining a werewolf pack.

"I don't blame you," Knight replied. "But they can't all be that bad. You're not."

"Maybe you're right."

"You should go. At the very least, you'll learn something useful."

"Good point."

Checking his e-mail, Schanke saw that Elliott had sent him driving directions. The location was a clearing in the forest just north of the city. He knew it well enough from a case going back several years before Nick joined the force. A serial rapist/murderer used it as a place to dump and burn bodies. He'd gotten three consecutive life sentences. It wasn't enough for what he'd done, Schanke thought, but then it rarely was. Tracy was hauling boxes of office supplies from her old desk to her new one. She set them on the floor and looked from Schanke to Nick.

"Can either of you please give me a hand?"

Eyes twinkling mischievously, Nick clapped and exclaimed, "Bravo!" in an Italian accent.

Tracy rolled her eyes. "Sometimes, I wonder about your sense of humor, Nick."

"Hey, at least I have one."

"I heard about the fire," Tracy said as Nick lifted the computer. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Yeah. Thank Schanke, he brought the van. I hate to think what might have happened otherwise."

"How'd the arsonist start it?"

"Well, it definitely wasn't done by conventional methods." Briefly, Nick told her about the stone and how it was somehow bound to an older and more powerful vampire. He left out the part about his connection to Divia.

He was keeping the antiques and photographs that he'd saved in a box by his desk. There were pictures of him and Natalie; pictures of Nick with a woman Tracy recognized as the Raven's owner, and black and white photos taken many years ago. Nick was in some of them, but not all. There were also a painting with two children, a boy and a girl with blond hair and blue eyes standing in front of their parents. They all wore clothes Tracy hadn't seen outside of a medieval festival. The man was about forty and held a sword. Even though he was bearded, his face looked familiar.

"Nick, is this your family?"

"Uh, yeah." Carefully, he took the painting out of the box. "This is my father, my mother, my sister Fleur, and that's me."

"It's very good. I assume it's a copy."

"Yes, I lost the original ages ago. I made the copy myself." Nick's memories began to drift. The painting had been done the day before his father went to fight in the Crusades. He'd been five. He was surprised that he remembered; most of his childhood memories were very dim. He'd made one copy every forty years since then, so the colors would look as fresh as they were in his mind.

"It's very good."

Nick smiled a bit shyly, which was unlike himself. "I'm glad you think so."

"Thanks for the help, Nick. Do you have someplace to stay?"

"I'm staying with Schanke for now. I'm taking Friday off to look for a new place."

"Okay. Let me know if you need anything."

"Thanks, Tracy. I appreciate it."

* * * * *

Something was on Grace Balthasar's mind. Natalie could tell by the furrows in her friend's forehead. Natalie and Grace were enjoying a short coffee break, and they'd been talking about the mysterious new cases that were coming in.

"Nat, you knew about Nick the whole time, didn't you?"

Grace's question didn't take Natalie Lambert completely by surprise. In fact, she'd been expecting it.

"Yes," she admitted.

"And you didn't say a word. You could have trusted me, you know." Grace looked hurt. "I'd never have said a word to anyone else."

"I couldn't tell anyone, Grace, not if I wanted to stay in one piece. The Enforcers would have killed both Nick and me, and whoever I told as well. The secret was that important to them."

"Oh, Nat." Grace put a hand on her shoulder. "This cure you've been working on, it's not for Nick's sun allergy, is it?"

"No. Nick hates being a vampire. For over a hundred years, he's wanted nothing more than to become a normal human again. Nick is terribly haunted by the things he's done in the past and hates himself for it. He's getting better lately, but with him, it's so hard to tell. He's had a lot of practice at hiding his feelings."

"It must be difficult to love someone like that."

"How did you know I was in love with Nick?"

"It's in your eyes, girlfriend. You just get that look when you talk about him."

"I do, huh?"

"Yep."

"You know, I'm surprised, Grace. You haven't said one word about Nick being too old for me."

"Nat, Nick is 807. Technically, he's too old for my grandmother."

Natalie couldn't help but giggle. "When you put it like that . . ."

"Hold on, I'm not finished yet. It's obvious that you both love each other. I refuse to stand in the way of true love. Forget about the age gap."

"That's good advice."

"You know me, I dish out only the best."

Natalie's beeper went off. She glanced at the number and sighed. "There goes my coffee break."

"Gotta run?" Grace asked.

"You bet. Hold down the fort."

"Don't I always?" Grace asked rhetorically.

Nat grabbed her jacket and purse. After all the paranormal cases lately, she hoped this one would be ordinary.

* * * * *

The two captains had been driving around in Nick's caddy looking for the street on the map. Schanke pointed out the street address that matched what he'd entered into the laptop, and they pulled over in front of a bookstore. There was an Asian street vendor selling herbs and a couple of bystanders looking at his wares. The smell of fresh garlic filled the air as Schanke and Nick climbed out of the car.

"You okay?" Don asked his partner, whose face had lost what little color it normally had.

"Fine," Nick replied in a strangled tone.

The street vendor held up a bunch of fresh spices. "I have ginseng, green tea, black tea, garlic . . ."

"No thanks."

"It's very good for colds. You look pale, you must not be feeling well. Here, try some." The vendor held up a strand of garlic. The vampire nearly passed out from the strong smell and leaned on the caddy for support.

"Put that stuff away, you idiot," Schanke remarked. "You're probably killing him. Nick, buddy, are you okay? Want me to call 911?"

"I'll live."

"You sure?"

"Yes. Let's go."

The outside of Xing Long's Books was painted in red. The color was faded from the sun. Beneath the main sign with the name of the bookstore in English and Mandarin characters hung a Chinese dragon carved from wood. The green and gold metallic paint contrasted nicely with the red.

Inside, huge paintings of dragons flying over the countryside decorated the walls. Some were watercolor, others were oil. One in particular caught Nick's eye. In the painting, a silver dragon soared through a violet and indigo sky lit by stars and a waning crescent moon. The dragon had complete freedom. Nick wondered if he would ever be truly free. Even though his master, Lucien LaCroix, was in Greece, the bond remained. It was much like being in a prison cell with bars that were clear like glass and looked just as fragile, yet no matter how hard you tried to break them, they would not shatter.

"May I help you?"

An Asian man in his forties looked at them. He was slightly shorter than Schanke, wearing an emerald green silk shirt, black pants, and very expensive shoes. There were traces of silver in his hair. He also wore gold-rimmed glasses. He appeared to be slightly overweight. The man looked absolutely harmless, but Schanke smelled something that gave him goose bumps. It was the scent of vast power and age, which was creepy coming from someone who wasn't a vampire. Only the fact that the aroma was not mingled with evil eased him.

"Yes. We are looking for Xing Long." Nick pronounced the Chinese name effortlessly.

"Then you have found him."

End of part 2

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

By Emily M. Hanson

Part 3/11

***********************

"Captain Knight, Toronto police. This is Captain Schanke. We're investigating a homicide and maybe you can provide us with a few answers."

Xing Long folded his arms. "It must be an interesting case for two police captains to investigate. What do you wish to know?"

A fleeting shadow suddenly crossed the room. As Long turned around, Schanke and Knight exchanged glances. A black cat with green eyes perched atop a bookshelf. Her tail twitched as she regarded the visitors. Then, without warning, she leapt onto Schanke's shoulder.

"Xiao Xing," Long protested.

The cat meowed, a strange trilling sound that reminded Schanke of a bird's call.

"She chooses her friends carefully," Long said. "It is a greater honor than you realize to be chosen by her."

"Great. I'm thrilled."

Xiao Xing gently batted her paw on Schanke's cheek and meowed into his ear. Nick chuckled at his friend's less-than-enthusiastic expression.

"Perhaps we should sit down and talk," Long suggested.

"Fine by me," Schanke said.

Nick shrugged.

There was a sofa and several chairs in the back, set up as a lounge area. As a concession to children, there was a beanbag with several stuffed animals beside it. Schanke sat down. The cat jumped from his shoulder, climbed into his lap and began to purr even before he touched it. Schanke began to pet the cat and glimpsed a large dark shadow hovering around it. At that moment, he sensed something that he could not describe. When he blinked in surprise, Xiao Xing appeared to be a normal feline.

"You are one strange cat," Schanke muttered.

Xiao Xing let out another trilling meow.

"Well, at least we agree on something."

Nick took the photographs of the burn victims from his jacket pocket and showed them to Xing Long. "Do any of these people look familiar to you?"

Long studied them and felt the blood rush from his face. "Yes, they have all purchased things from me recently. Don't tell me they are dead."

*He knows something,* Nick thought, *but he didn't kill them.* Aloud, he said, "They were all severely burned. We are treating the deaths as homicides."

"I am very sorry to hear that. They were good customers as well as good friends."

Xing Long closed his eyes for a moment. He had known that his rival was in the area, but his enemy's actions were unexpected. Hei Long did not usually provoke another so soon after moving into a territory; he usually waited to gather his strength and resources.

"Anything you can tell us would be helpful," Nick continued.

Xing took a deep breath. "Do you believe in magic, Captain Knight?"

The fair-haired officer chuckled softly. "You must not read the newspapers, or you would not ask me that question."

"On the contrary, so many of your kind refuse to believe what is directly in front of them. You know from your own experience that science cannot explain everything, yes?"

Nick nodded. "Science would determine that I have a virus or disease. It doesn't explain how I can fly, or how I am able to hypnotize mortals."

"Captain Schanke, what about you?" Long asked.

"Do you realize you're talking to a guy who gets furry every time there's a full moon, and even sometimes when there's not?"

"That is my point."

Xiao Xing looked up at the werewolf with her huge green eyes. For a few heartbeats, he had the sensation of falling into them. The green faded into blue, which faded into black. Twinkling stars appeared and it seemed he could see the whole universe at once. Then Schanke snapped back to where he was. The air around the feline rippled in rainbow colors.

Briefly, Schanke thought *he* was shape-shifting, until he saw the cat's body transforming. Fur changed to an iridescent, light-colored smooth skin. Xiao Xing's legs grew slightly longer and more muscled, her claws sharpened, and two beautiful multi-colored wings sprouted from her back. Her tail also extended in length. Her eyes were violet in color. She no longer resembled a cat.

"What the . . ?" Schanke exclaimed.

"I believe that's called a dragon," Nick said, completely unable to hide his shock and disbelief. "A bit small though, if I remember my childhood stories."

"Xiao Xing is a faerie dragon," Xing Long explained. "She is as intelligent as any of us, though she cannot speak human words with her mouth. She uses her mind to communicate."

"Wait. You said us," Schanke said.

"Indeed I did." Xing grinned.

"Does that mean you're a dragon, too?" As the Asian nodded, Schanke's jaw dropped. "Man, oh, man." Don ran his fingers through his sparse hair.

Nick was still recovering from his shock. He'd seen a lot of things in eight centuries, but this definitely took the prize. "Uh, if you don't mind me asking, how old are you?"


"Would *you* answer that question truthfully, Captain Knight?"

"It depends on who asks it."

Xing laughed. "All right, how old are you?"

"I'm 807."

"You are still young. I am over 6500 years old."

The small dragon looked at Xing. Both Nick and Schanke heard her voice in their minds. It was unmistakably feminine with an unfamiliar and exotic accent. *I am over four millennia old.*

Schanke felt incredibly young compared to the ancient dragons and vampire. What must they think of him? How could he possibly hope to measure up to their expectations?

*It is true that you are young,* Xiao Xing said in his mind, *but you have already witnessed more in your brief life than most could ever dream of.* She trilled softly. * You are capable of more than you know.*

"Thanks." He touched the faerie dragon's back, right above her wings. Her skin was soft and velvety, not at all like he had expected.

*A little higher, if you please. I have the most annoying itch, and I cannot reach that particular spot.*

Schanke scratched the spot, and the small dragon on his lap purred just like a cat. It would've been funny, if it wasn't so amazing.

"So, what can you tell us about the homicides?" Nick asked.

"There is another dragon in town. I don't know what he is calling himself these days. Among us, he is simply known as Hei Long."

"Black dragon," Nick translated.

"Yes. He is powerful and evil. How exactly did the victims die?"

"Spontaneous combustion."

"Yes, that sounds like him. A dragon's territory is far wider than that of vampires or werewolves. I first sensed his presence several days ago. I did not realize that he would not challenge me so quickly. One thing you must understand about dragons, Captain Knight, is that we do not use our power to kill unless it is absolutely necessary. Hei is the exception to the rule. He practices a kind of magic that is forbidden among us. He gains power from death. The more violent the death, the more power he gains. It does not matter to him what happens to the victim's body in the process."

Nick digested the information. He wondered how Hei Long could possibly be defeated if the ancient dragon was so powerful.

As if reading his thoughts, Xing Long said, "It takes magic to defeat magic. The black dragon cannot be beaten with ordinary means. I have tried to fight him myself, many times."

"You must know of a way," the vampire said.

"Yes. Stay here for a moment. I must get something from the back room."

The faerie dragon on Schanke's lap trilled inquiringly. *Is it what I think it is?*

"Yes."

*We have a slight problem, then.*

"One does not have to be mortal to be pure of heart." Xing declared.

*Are you certain?*

"We shall see."

Xiao Xing watched with unblinking violet eyes as Xing Long left the room.

"What was all that about?" Schanke asked.

Nick shrugged. Xiao Xing glanced up at the vampire and gave him a scrutinizing look. Finally, she admitted, *You have potential, but that is not enough. You must have faith in yourself, and the light that lies within you.*

"That is not as easy as you make it sound."

*It never is,* the faerie dragon agreed. *But that is the way of things.*

Xing Long returned carrying an antique sword in a leather scabbard. It was huge. There were runes and a Latin inscription on the hilt. Nick could pick out a few of the words. His Latin was far from fluent, though LaCroix had made him practice it. There was no doubt in Knight's mind that this was Excalibur. He sensed the power immediately.

"Try to draw it," Xing urged him, holding out the sword.

Nick grasped the scabbard first and then the hilt -- or tried to. He felt a jolt of power, similar to that which he would have gotten from a holy object, and quickly withdrew his hand to avoid injury. Despair filled the vampire. After years of immorality, how could he allow himself to believe that he was worthy?

"I can't."

"Only as long as you continue to believe that."

"I'm a vampire."

"Yes, but that does not mean you are evil. You must see that there is goodness within yourself. Concentrate on that when you try to take the sword."

Nick could hardly believe what Long was telling him. Was it truly possible? He reached for the hilt again and felt the near-electrical shock of power. But this time he did not let go, and his hand was uninjured. Knight stared at the sword in his hand, incredulous.

*If you keep holding your mouth open like that, you will eventually find an insect flying there,* Xiao Xing advised. *Unless I miss my guess, you are no carouche.*

"What's that?" Schanke asked.

"A lower form of vampire that only feeds on animals," Nick responded.

"I thought you drank cow blood."

"I do. But that's different from being a carouche."

"How?"

"It's complicated."

"Captain Knight," Xing Long said, "you do remember how to use a sword, don't you?"

"Yes," Nick replied. He stood up and took a practice swing. The blade glowed light blue as it sliced through the air and continued to glow as he held it up. "Amazing. I've never held a weapon that was more perfectly balanced. Why does it glow? I don't remember anything about that in the stories."

"It recognizes you as the one meant for it, at least, for the time being. I myself can't say why that never made it into the legends. It would have most certainly glowed when Arthur pulled it from the rock."

"How did you happen to find it?"

"Let's just say it found me," Xing said with a smile. "It is a very long story, and one I may tell you another time."

"Okay, so I have a magic sword. What good will that do when the black dragon decides to breathe fire on me?" Nick asked.

"Ah, there is something else I must give you."

Xing Long disappeared once again into the back room. He came out in less time than before, holding an ornately carved wooden box. There was a phoenix carved into it. Opening the box revealed a bronze ring set with an orange jade stone. There were symbols etched into the ring that Nick did not recognize, and the bronze had a strange reddish tinge that was not rust.

"As long as you wear the ring of the phoenix, you will be unharmed by fire. It holds a very powerful and ancient spell. It is a gift. Please, take it."

Nick knew better than to refuse the gift; the dragon would likely take the refusal as an insult. It was a characteristic of Eastern culture. "I am honored."

"Thank you." Nick slipped the ring onto his finger and felt the telltale buzz of magic. "Why is it called that?"

"When the ring was made thousands of years ago, the artisan placed a crushed feather from the last phoenix into molten bronze."

"Oh." Nick slid Excalibur into the scabbard and the glow faded.

* * * * *

End of part 3

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 4/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

Schanke had been scratching Xiao Xing's back and was startled when the faerie dragon changed into her feline form.

"How do we find Hei Long?" he asked.

"He will most likely find you first," Xing Long replied.

This was not what Don wanted to hear. What if the dragon found out where he lived and threatened his family? How could he possibly hope to protect them? No way was he *that* strong.

The two dragons in the room exchanged thoughtful glances. Then, Schanke heard the faerie dragon's voice in his head. *I will go with you, to help you protect your loved ones.*

"Oh, no, you don't have to do that."

*It is all right, I want to.*

"Well, in that case, okay." Schanke replied.

Oh, man. How was he going to explain all this to Myra?

* * * * *

Natalie wrinkled her nose at the scent of burned flesh. Judging by the slenderness of the body, she thought the victim was female, but the chest and face had been blown away. The smell of sulfur was overwhelming.

"Did the victim have any ID?" She asked one of the forensics officers.

"Yeah. Lieutenant Smith, you got the ID still?"

"Yes, sir." A junior officer handed a plastic bag to Nat.

"Thanks." One glance at the driver's license told Natalie her initial guess was correct. This young woman had been Asian. She heard the familiar sound of the Caddy's engine and turned to watch Nick pull up. It was obvious that Schanke was carrying something as he got out of the car. As he stood up, Nat saw green feline eyes. The cat was completely black and blended in with Schanke's leather jacket. Don looked slightly queasy.

"If it smells that bad from back here, I'm not coming any closer."

*If you'll allow me, I know a spell that might help.*

The faerie dragon had been silent so long; Don was startled to hear her voice in his mind. "Sure," he answered. Blue sparks whirled around him briefly and disappeared. Schanke inhaled fresh air. "Ah, much better. Thanks."

*You're welcome.*

"What just happened?" Natalie asked.

Nick and Schanke exchanged glances. "It's a long story," the vampire replied.

"You want to tell me?"

It took Nick about five minutes to explain the whole thing.

"This is incredible. I don't suppose you have any more earth-shattering surprises up your sleeve?" Natalie asked.

"Nope, that's it for now."

"You're sure you two didn't stumble over a UFO on the way here?"

"Well, actually, there was an alien corpse that we drove over."

"Oh, so that's what that big bump was," Schanke replied with a grin.

"You two!" Nat exclaimed, and burst into laughter. "Okay, let's get to work before they bag and tag my next patient. I should warn you, it's pretty bad." Carefully, she lifted the sheet that covered the body and steeled herself.

Schanke quickly looked away. "Pretty bad doesn't begin to cover it, Doc."

"You're right. I'm sorry."

Nick had to agree. "I've seen worse, but not by much."

"What do you think?" Don asked, and it took Nat a moment to realize that he was talking to the cat.

*There was definitely magic involved. I can tell you with certainty that a dragon did this.*

"Hei Long?"

*Most likely.* Xiao Xing meowed softly. *He gained much power from this death.*

Schanke didn't look happy. "And you still think Nick stands a chance against him?"

*Yes, but the black dragon must be stopped before he gains too much power.* The furry feline shuddered at the thought of the evil one becoming more formidable.

"Nick, you're not seriously thinking of going up against him all by yourself," Natalie said. "Even with Excalibur, you're more likely to get toasted than not. I don't want to sweep up your ashes afterward."

"I'll be careful, I promise."

"Why does it have to be you?"

*Excalibur chooses its rightful holder. At the moment, that is Nicholas de Brabant.*

Natalie was startled to hear Xiao Xing's voice in her head. "There is no way anyone else can use the sword?"

*If the sword does not wish it, no.*

She pulled the sheet back over the body. "Did you find someplace to stay, Nick?"

"I spent the day sleeping in Schanke's basement. I had some raw hamburger to eat."

"How much?"

"Three bites."

"And it stayed down?"

"Yes."

"Nick, that's great. You can come to the morgue and pick up some supplies later. I have a whole box in the fridge full of blood packs that the hospital just threw out."

The vampire looked slightly embarrassed as his stomach growled audibly. "Um, can we make that sooner rather than later?"

"Sure."

"I'm gonna head back. You want a lift?" Schanke asked.

"No thanks."

"Flying the friendly skies, huh?"

"Yeah, you could say that." Nick replied with a grin.

"Nick," Nat began after Schanke left, "you know that my door is always open if you need a place to stay."

"Thanks, I appreciate it." He watched as the body was carted away into the truck that would take it to the morgue. "I'll see you later."

"Sure, Nick."

He took off. Natalie watched until his flying form disappeared into the darkness, and then she headed to her car. She had a feeling it was going to be a long night.

* * * * *

Nick stopped at the morgue first. No one was around, so he helped himself to the contents of the fridge. He'd downed two packs of blood and was reaching for a third when Grace stepped into the lab. Nick hadn't bothered to turn on the lights, so all she saw was light coming from the refrigerator and a pair of glowing yellow eyes. Grace let out a tiny yelp, more out of shock than anything else.

"That had better be you, Nick."

Quickly, she flipped on the light switch. The expression on his face was one of total surprise and just a little guilt. Captain Knight looked like a kid who'd gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. There was a small trickle of blood on the corner of his mouth, which made what he'd been doing very obvious. That, and the fact that his fangs were actually showing.

She couldn't help but be astonished. The fact that Nick Knight was a vampire hadn't quite hit home until now. She wondered how Natalie was dealing with it, or if her friend had known all along. Nat must have known; how could she not? A lot of things were starting to make sense now, like the way Nick and Nat remained friends even though their love for each other was so obvious anyone could see it. Suddenly aware of the fact that she was staring open-mouthed, Grace clamped her mouth shut.

Nick spoke first, breaching the silence that thickened between them. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."

Grace laughed nervously. "It's okay, Nick, really. I, um, just wasn't expecting to find anyone here."

"Especially not me raiding the fridge, right?" He replied with a toothy grin, trying to lighten the situation.

Grace nodded and wondered what he would have done if she'd walked in on him a couple of months ago, not knowing the truth. The old Jedi mind trick routine, probably. She imagined him saying in a hypnotic voice, "You did not see me, I was never here, vampires are not real." It wasn't hard to believe.

"Having a midnight snack?"

"Breakfast, actually." The vampire licked his lips. As Nick's eyes flickered and returned to their normal blue color, his fangs disappeared. "Did you, uh, need something?"

"I just came to get this." She picked up a file that was lying on Natalie's desk.

Nick could hear the woman's heart beating at about a hundred miles a minute. She was doing a good job of not showing her fear, but the last thing he wanted was for anyone to be afraid of him. Very gently, Nick said, "Relax, Grace, I don't bite."

"Mmm hmm. So just how did you stay alive for 800 years?" It had been meant as a joke, but the flustered look on his face told her he'd taken it seriously.

"Well, uh . . ."

"I was teasing. Really." But the pain in his eyes showed she'd done a lot more than just that. "Oh, Nick, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to . . ."

"It's all right, Grace. You haven't done anything wrong; I did."

"Nick, listen to me." She took a deep breath. "I don't hold your past against you, and I don't think anyone else does, either. We all know you didn't have much of a choice, hundreds of years ago, when there were no blood donations. Whatever you did then, you've changed. That much is obvious."

A look of relief spread across his face. "Thanks."

"No problem. Want me to turn out the lights?"

"I don't think so. Someone else might walk in."

"Okay."

After Grace left, Nick gulped down another pack of blood. By the time he finished, he heard Schanke pull into the parking lot with the Caddy. Natalie was right behind him.

* * * * *

Xiao Xing shivered in Schanke's arms as they entered the morgue. The scent of death was overwhelming. The faerie dragon knew the purpose of a morgue. That didn't make it any easier to endure.

Schanke noticed the discomfort of the small creature. "What's wrong?"

*I do not like the smell of death.*

"Want to wait outside?"

*No. I will remain with you.*

The fur around Xiao Xing's face had lightened considerably. "Your furry friend looks a little pale. Is she going to be okay?" Natalie asked. She'd only heard Schanke's side of the conversation.

"Yeah. She's not used to being near a place like this. Everything has a scent, and death stinks. Not just the bodies, but the way they died. If someone was murdered, then they stink more. In a morgue where you have lots of bodies like that, it really stinks. I know you can't sense things the same way. Trust me, it's not pleasant."

"I'll take your word for it."

As they entered the lab, Xiao Xing promptly jumped out of Schanke's arms and sniffed around Natalie's desk. The feline curled up near a newspaper Nat had left there.

"I want to try something," Nick said. "Nat, do you have any matches around here?"

"Yes. Why?"

"I'd like to see just how much protection this ring is going to give me."

Nat's eyes widened as she realized what he was planning to do. "Nick, I hope you're not thinking what I think you are."

"I would rather find out now, under controlled circumstances, than in the middle of a fight."

He had a point, she thought. "Okay. Schanke, get the fire extinguisher, just in case."

"You got it."

* * * * *

End of part 4

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 5/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

Natalie got the matches from their place at the bottom of the desk drawer. She'd had them for a long time, in case LaCroix or the Enforcers showed up. A stake or holy water would have prompted too many questions, so fire was her only defense. Wordlessly, Natalie handed the matchbook to Nick. Schanke stood ready with the fire extinguisher.

Cautiously, Nick lit a match and held it close to his hand. He felt warmth from the flame, but it did not burn him. He touched the flame and still it did no harm.

A grin spread across Knight's face. If the ring could completely protect him from fire, it would probably shield him from the rays of the sun as well. "Nat, do you realize what this means?"

"What?"

"We could spend the day together outside."

"Nick, don't get your hopes up. The sun is a lot more powerful than a tiny flame."

"Maybe, but I think the same idea applies. Xiao Xing, do you know if that will work?"

*The magic of the ring is powerful. As long as you wear it, no normal fire will harm you. Magical fire, on the other hand, may cause you some injury.*

"Yes! Did you hear that, Natalie?" Nick asked.

"No, but I can guess." She smiled. "I would be more than happy to spend the day with you, Nicholas DeBrabant."

"Only four more hours until sunrise."

"That seems like such a long time to wait."

"I've waited over 700 years; I can wait a few more hours. Shall I pick you up at six?"

"Sure."

Nick blew out the match and tossed it in the garbage.

"I'll meet you outside," Schanke said, figuring that Nick and Nat wanted to make plans.

"Okay."

"Why the serious look all of a sudden?" Natalie asked after Schanke and Xiao Xing had left.

Nick took a deep breath. "Your friend Grace caught me, uh, having breakfast."

"Oh, is that all? Well, you don't have to worry about the Enforcers now."

"No, I don't." He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll see you later."

* * * * *

Tracy looked up from her computer to see Captain Schanke carrying a black cat in his arms and Nick right behind him. Nick was carrying something but she couldn't see what.

"Find a stray, Captain Schanke?" She asked.

"Uh, I'm cat-sitting for a friend. I didn't want to just drop her off at home, with everyone asleep."

The feline looked up at him, meowed, and jumped onto Tracy's desk. "Well, hello there," Tracy said as she reached down to pet the cat. "What's her name?"

"Xiao Xing. It's Chinese. I have no idea what it means," Schanke answered.

"Little star," Nick said.

"What a pretty name. Oh, no, don't do that!" Tracy suddenly exclaimed as the feline sniffed her coffee mug full of steaming hot java.

*I wasn't planning to drink it.* The voice in Tracy's head was female and exotically accented.

"Okay, which one of you two learned ventriloquism?"

Nick was trying hard not to laugh as Schanke vigorously shook his head. "It wasn't either of us, Trace. Honestly," the vampire replied.

"Yeah, right."

"Really, it wasn't us," Schanke said.

Tracy looked down at the feline in front of her. "You couldn't have said that."

*Would you like to make a bet?* The same female voice said in Tracy's mind.

"I'll pass, thanks." She took a deep breath. "So what's the explanation? Aliens? Genetically engineered creatures? A shape shifter of some kind?" Tracy hazarded. "Is there such a thing as a werecat?"

Schanke laughed. "I don't think so."

Xiao Xing gave her a scrutinizing look and nodded. It was odd to see such a human gesture on a cat - or something that looked like a cat.

*You are ready to hear the truth, Tracy Vetter. But tell no one you do not trust, for this secret has been kept longer than any other.*

"Okay, I promise not to tell."

*My species is far more ancient than vampires or werewolves, or humans, for that matter. Watch and learn. We inherit memories, so I can show you the way things were long before my birth.*

*** Flashback ***

Sometime during Prehistoric times . . .

A long-necked dinosaur craned his neck to enjoy a tasty bite of foliage. Above him, a beautiful creature with iridescent blue skin expanded her wings and launched into the air. Startled, the dinosaur looked up. Now Tracy could see the creature resembled a lizard except for the wings. The brontosaurus let out an irritated roar as the flying lizard disappeared into the higher leaves.

Nearby, two smaller lizards scampered across a tree branch. Suddenly, one opened his mouth, sending a bright jet of flames into the air. The fire rippled across the other's back, but did no harm. The larger creature leapt onto the branch from above and gave them both a stern glare.

They weren't lizards, they were dragons! The stunning realization sent chills down Tracy's spine. This was incredible. She was completely astonished. Vampires and werewolves were one thing; dragons were another. They were an entirely different species that was not an offshoot of the human race. Their existence could not be explained away as a bizarre illness or genetic anomaly. They might as well be aliens.

Time fast-forwarded to the beginning of human civilization. Humans with crude iron swords slaughtered much larger dragons as they slept in caves, even going so far as to smash all the eggs. Thus the dragons were driven to the brink of extinction and were forced to live in the mountains, deserts and jungles far from humans.

Dragons eventually discovered how to use their innate abilities to transform into humans and common animals. As time went by, they also learned human habits and language. When the first vampires and werewolves emerged, the dragons contacted them and tried to maintain harmony, but soon differences in their ways drove them all apart. The dragons kept to themselves, and their existence became little more than a myth. A few humans were trusted with the amazing secret. They passed on their knowledge in the form of fairy-tales, so that no one would ever know the truth.

*** End Flashback ***

Tracy's mind reeled from what she had just seen. Dragons were real! It was totally incredible. Oh, how Detective Vetter wished she could tell the world. But Tracy had given her word and was bound to keep the secret, just as she had kept the knowledge of vampires to herself. This was even more amazing.

She took a sip of coffee. "Okay, Nick, I want the truth. Did you know about this?"

"Not until tonight."

"Why are we finding out about this now? Does this have something to do with a case?"

"Yes. Oh, and there's something I want to show you."

"What?"

Nick took the object he was carrying and placed it on Tracy's desk. She could easily see that it was a sword. The weapon looked very old, but it was in excellent condition from what she could tell.

"This is Excalibur."

After learning the truth about dragons, this discovery seemed almost mundane by comparison. "That's Excalibur? As in King Arthur and Merlin?"

"Yeah."

Cautiously, Detective Vetter reached to touch it. She felt a slight buzz as she placed a finger on the hilt and felt one of the carved symbols. "Pinch me, I must be dreaming," Tracy remarked.

Knight grinned. "You and me both. Did you feel anything?"

"Yeah, kind of like static electricity."

"That's the sword's magic."

"Really?"

He nodded. "Legend has it that only one pure of heart can wield Excalibur."

"Is it like a holy object?"

"In a way, yes. But I can hold the sword without injury."

"Where did you get that sword? I see you've got a new ring, too," Tracy remarked.

"The ring is magical, too. It's a long story, and I promise to tell you later. Right now, I have to catch up on paperwork."

"Okay." Tracy absently reached down to stroke Xiao Xing's silky black fur. She froze when she realized what she was doing. This was a dragon, not a cat.

*It's all right. Keep going.* The faerie dragon's voice popped into Tracy's head. *A little lower, if you please. Yes, that's it.* The cat that was not a cat began to purr.

* * * * *

Nick's internal clock alerted him to the fact that it was almost sunrise. He glanced at his watch and set the pen down. Through the window, the vampire could see that the first rays of the sun were already beginning to pierce the darkness. He was starting to feel sleepy, but Nick was determined to spend the day with Natalie.

He stood up and stretched. "I'll see you later, Tracy. Oh, I was thinking about coming in early, say, about five."

"I didn't hear anything about a solar eclipse today," she remarked. "What are you going to do, ride in the car trunk?"

Nick laughed. "Remember the new ring I told you that was magical? It'll let me go outside during the daytime."

"In the sun?"

"Yes."

"Nick, you big oaf, why didn't you say anything before?"

"I wanted to keep it a surprise."

"Well, you surprised me," Tracy responded. "When was the last time you were in the sun?"

"Oh, a few years ago, Nat found a temporary cure. Schanke was here at the time. The cure had some . . . adverse side effects. It was also very addictive. This won't bring me back across, but at least I can enjoy sunlight."

"Okay. Have fun."

"I plan on it." Nick walked past Don Schanke's desk. "Don't you have to be going too?"

"Yeah. Uh, do you mind dropping me off at home first? It's Saturday, Myra won't need the van right away in the morning."

"No problem."

* * * * *

End of part 5

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 6/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

It was almost six when Natalie saw Nick, grinning like a kid at Christmas, walk into the lab. The sun had just risen and he did not look the least bit scorched.

"Nick, it worked!"

"Yes, it did. Shall we go?"

"Just a second, I need to save my file." She clicked the mouse button. "Where do you want to go?"

He shrugged. "Anywhere, as long as I'm with you."

"Okay. But let's be cautious, all right? This might be a temporary thing. How about the park?"

"Sure."

As they walked out, Grace spotted them from the parking lot. She couldn't believe Nick was in the sun. Had Nat found a working cure?

"Grace! Do me a favor, would you?" Natalie asked.

"Sure. Nick, are you all right?"

"I'm fine," he said with a laugh.

"What about the sun?"

He grinned. "It's not bothering me a bit."

"How is that possible?"

Nick's eyes twinkled good-naturedly. "If I told you it was magic, would you believe me?"

Grace laughed. "Are you kidding? Between vampires and werewolves and whatever else is out there, I don't know what to believe anymore."

Natalie produced a small camera from her purse. "Would you be so kind?"

"Sure." She stepped back and took a couple of shots. "There you are, a once-in-a-lifetime photo. How long has it been since you saw the sun last, Nick?"

He laughed. "Not as long as you think."

"Thank you for taking the picture, Grace," Natalie said.

"No problem. Have fun, you two," she replied.

"We will." Nick yawned. "If I don't fall asleep. Seven centuries of sleeping during the day is going to be a hard habit to break."

"Oh, I'll keep you awake," Natalie remarked.

Grace watched them drive off in Nick's Caddy. Whatever miracle had happened to allow a vampire to endure sunlight, she hoped it wasn't only temporary. Nick was happier than she'd ever seen him, and his joy was contagious. She walked back to her car grinning and humming a cheerful tune.

* * * * *

Don Schanke parallel-parked between a shiny yellow Corvette and a Ford truck with a custom paint job. It was black with red and yellow flames. There was a bumper sticker on the truck with a cartoon drawing of a wolf in sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt. The caption read PARTY ANIMAL. Don chuckled. There were more than 50 cars parked along the roadside, presumably all belonging to local pack members, since no one else would be out in the middle of nowhere so early in the morning.

As he climbed out of the van, Schanke was hit by the overwhelming scent of other werewolves. The aroma he'd identified with power and magic mingled with it, but there was no evil in it. The feeling of power intensified as Don approached the clearing. He'd never sensed anything like this before. It was intoxicating and electrifying, like getting a dozen rushes of adrenaline all at once. Schanke's skin tingled as goose bumps formed on his arms.

Through the trees, he could at last see the others gathered in a circle around a small fire. A few were in their furry state, but most were not. Elliott was the only one Don recognized.

The young man turned to face him. "I'm glad you made it," Elliott said. Then, he stated, "This is the one I told you about. He has been touched by Luna."

Schanke looked confused. "Huh?"

"I take it the one who made you didn't tell you anything?"

"No."

"Okay. Let me explain. You know at least that our power comes from Luna, the moon?"

Schanke nodded.

"Good. Some of us inherit certain traits from our makers, which can prove to be either advantages or disadvantages. Others are born with a pre-disposition to certain traits, some of which are so rare that only one in many generations will have a particular gift." Elliott took a deep breath. "There has not been one like you in hundreds of years."

"What do you mean?" Schanke asked.

"You have a gift that allows you to draw from Luna's strength. It also gives you more control over your beast. There are many other small talents associated with this gift, but those are the major ones. The only drawback is an extra sensitivity to silver, which I'm sure you've already noticed. If you learn how to use this skill, your power will be great. Join us and we will teach you what it means to be a Child of Luna."

Schanke realized he didn't have much of a choice. A similar opportunity might not come again.

"Okay," he said. "I accept."

A wide grin spread across Elliott's face. "Great! Welcome to the pack."

Polite applause came from the others.

"So are you the leader?" Schanke asked.

"For the moment, yes. Our previous pack leader is facing prison time for attempted murder. I was his Shadow, the one being trained for his position. I challenged him the night before he was arrested, and won." Elliott took another deep breath. "Our pack is called the Silver Talons. We are the second largest werewolf pack in Canada. Our territory covers this entire province. We share it, though reluctantly, with the vampires. You will learn more as time goes by. This meeting is almost ended, though there is one small piece of business left."

"Why do I get the feeling this has to do with me?"

"You and your partner, actually. There has been a string of disturbing murders recently. Find out what you can. If there is a threat to us, we need to know."

Schanke realized Elliott was talking about the dragons. How could he tell the pack leader anything without revealing the secret of the dragon's existence?

"Do you know something?"

"Yes. My partner and I are currently investigating these murders. I'm sworn to secrecy. All I can tell you about the threat is that we're dealing with it."

"How much of a threat are we talking about? Is the killer human, vampire, or one of us?"

"Neither."

"The dragons," Elliott breathed with sudden realization. "It must be."

"You know about them?" Schanke said in amazement.

"Yeah, but I had no idea there were any in Toronto. This is incredible news. Wait, how do you know about dragons?"

"Uh, it's a long story."

"I'll bet." Suddenly Elliott sniffed. "That's the strange scent I've been smelling. You've actually met a dragon recently, haven't you?"

Don nodded.

The look of awe on the pack leader's face was unmistakable. "If anything comes up, keep me informed." He turned to face the rest of the pack. "This meeting is adjourned. Should the need arise for an emergency meeting, I will contact you. Otherwise, I'll see you here next month."

* * * * *

The sign COFFEE & FRESH PASTRY caught Nick's eye as he drove the Caddy.

"Nat, are you hungry for breakfast?"

She glanced out the window and saw the sign too. Below it was a sign listing the kinds of pastry available. "Sure. Look, Nick, they have apple tarts." Natalie knew they used to be his favorite. Before he'd lost his memories from a bullet wound to the skull, Nick told her that he could remember, as a child, filching them from the kitchen before they'd begun to cool. The fact that his mother had been able to bake so well without a gas stove and other modern amenities still amazed Nat.

Nick grinned and pulled over.

As they walked in, Nick took a deep whiff. The delicious smells brought back a torrent of memories he thought had vanished with his head injury. Granted, French pastry was not baked the same way 800 years ago, but the scent was similar.

*** Flashback ***

His mother was in the kitchen, humming as she kneaded dough. While she looked the other way, a young Nick grabbed a freshly baked apple tart.

"You'll burn your tongue!" She said, of course, in French.

"No, I won't," he replied, biting into it carefully. "They're good when they're hot."

Nick's mother sighed and ruffled his curly blond hair. "Whatever am I going to do with you, Nicola?"

The boy grinned. "If I had sword lessons, I would at least have something to do."

"Sword lessons and food? Is that all you can think about?" His mother teased. "I don't think you're old enough, but I will speak to your father."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now, go play with your sister and stay out of trouble."

"Yes, Mother."

The boy scampered off and his mother resumed her work.

*** End flashback. ***

A very adult Nick suddenly blinked back tears. The memory of his mother was overwhelming, especially after so long. He wondered how a simple thing like the smell of pastry could have brought it back.

"What is it?" Natalie asked, concerned.

"I just had an unexpected flashback about my mother, that's all."

"Nick, I thought you said that after your injury, all of those memories were lost."

"They were until now."

* * * * *

End of part 6

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 7/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

"Can I help you?" The chef behind the counter asked. He was a stocky young man with dark hair and dark eyes. His nametag proclaimed him as Fred.

"Yeah. Natalie, what would you like?"

"Coffee and an apple tart."

"Oh, you can't go wrong with that," said Fred. "And for you, sir?"

Nick was about to decline, but on a whim, he ordered an apple tart, too.

Nat looked at him in amazement. "Nick, are you actually going to try one?"

"Sure."

The chef handed the food to them. "There you go, coffee and two apple tarts, just like mom used to make."

"If we compared recipes, my mother's would be very different from your mother's," Nick said.

"Really? How did your mother make them?"

"Oh, the old-fashioned way," he replied with a grin.

"You're Nick Knight, aren't you?" As the vampire nodded, Fred continued, "I thought you looked familiar. What are you doing out during the day?"

"It's a long story."

"Uh huh. I bet you're not even a real vampire. I bet it was all a publicity stunt."

Nick sighed. "You want proof?"

"Yeah."

"Watch my feet. Look closely."

"I'm looking." The chef's eyes widened as Nick levitated off the ground a foot or so. It was one thing to read about vampires in the paper, but another thing to see a vampire in front of you. His mouth dropped open. "Wow. Geez, I'm sorry. I thought . . ."

Nick looked annoyed as he landed on solid ground. "You figured because I was in the sun, I had faked the whole thing?"

"Yes."

"Well, I didn't."

Fred was very apologetic. "I'm sorry. It's just hard to believe." He took a deep breath. "Did your mother really bake apple tarts?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah." He did a quick mental calculation. "Over 770 years ago."

"Do you still remember how she did it?"

"Yes. Why, do you want the recipe?"

"Are you kidding? Sure!"

Natalie sat and sipped her coffee while Nick chatted with the chef. This day was beginning to get interesting. If only the threat of the black dragon wasn't looming over them like a huge dark thunderhead, she might actually be able to relax and enjoy it.

Nick finally sat down. "How's the food?"

"Great. You should try a bite." To her surprise, he did. Natalie laughed at his exaggerated grimace. "You're in the sun and eating solid food. What's next, garlic?"

"I don't think so."

"Just kidding. Where are we going next?"

"Wherever you want." Nick got an impish look on his face. "You know, I've always wondered what Toronto looks like during the daytime from the sky."

Natalie looked surprised. He'd never offered to take her flying before. "Are you kidding? I'd love to!"

After they finished eating, Nick put one arm around Nat. "Ready? Hang on."

She barely had time to wrap her arms around his waist and they were off. From a dizzying height, Nat could see the whole city. She'd dreamed about flying with Nick, but never during the day. This was incredible. Now she knew how Lois Lane must have felt on that first flight with Superman.

Nick was ecstatic. He'd always wished something like this could happen. Only in his dreams had this ever been possible. He felt incredible, as if he could take on the world. Nick laughed and shouted, "Isn't this great?" Oh, if LaCroix could see him now. He had a vision of a jealous LaCroix able to feel his joy through their link, but not able to experience it for himself.

Suddenly, the vampire felt a bolt of pain and cried out. The blasted sun was scorching him. Only one thought was on his mind now, and that was survival. He had to find someplace dark, and fast! Natalie shrieked as they dropped about fifty feet and her stomach lurched.

"What is it?"

"Sun . . . hurts," he gasped.

"But you're not burning," she replied.

"Not yet." They landed and Nick ducked into the safety of the Caddy. "Okay. That was incredibly stupid."

Natalie shook her head. "You had no idea the ring would stop working."

"It's still working to an extent, or I'd have disintegrated in mid-air." He sighed. "I'm sorry for putting you in danger."

"Don't be sorry, Nick. Up until the part where we dropped like a roller coaster, I was having fun."

"Yeah, so was I." He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "Shall I chauffeur you home, my dear?"

"That would be nice. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to feel sleepy."

"Then home it is."

* * * * *

Don and Jenny were having a water pistol fight in the front yard as Nick pulled up in the Caddy. As the girl turned to look, Schanke squirted her. "Gotcha!"

"Nick, you're in the sun!" Jenny exclaimed, wiping her wet face. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, kiddo, I'm fine."

Schanke suddenly looked concerned. "Nick, ya look like a torched marshmallow!"

The vampire protested that he was all right, but his partner was not convinced.

"What happened?"

Finally, Nick explained, "I took Nat flying. It didn't work out. I nearly burned up in mid-air. End of story."

"Ouch," Schanke replied and winced. "Is Natalie okay?"

"She's fine. She went home and is probably sleeping right now. I'm about ready to hit the sack myself."

"Okay. Let me know if you need anything."

"Just breakfast," Nick said with a grin. He took the case of cow's blood he had picked up on the way out of the car. "I'll see you after a bit."

"See ya." Schanke blinked as Jenny squirted him.

"Yes! Payback!" She giggled. "You're all wet now."

Myra looked out the door after Nick went inside. "Hey, dry yourselves off good before you come in the house."

"Hon, come join us," Don said.

She gave him a wistful look. "Then who's going to make lunch? Huh?"

"Oh, come on, a late lunch won't kill us."

Myra grinned. "All right, but wait a minute." She grabbed an extra water pistol and filled it just as the vampire put his 'food' in the fridge. "Nick, are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." He gave her one of his best grins. "Just a little sunburned is all."

"There's a first aid kit in the bathroom if you want something for your sunburn."

"Thanks for the offer, but mortal medicine doesn't work on me. I'll be fine after a while."

"Okay."

Myra went outside. Nick downed two bottles of blood and went downstairs to rest. He found Xiao Xing curled up on the foot of the bed. The faerie dragon was in her natural state. Nick took his shoes off and sat on the bed.

A sleepy voice entered his mind. *You are home early.*

"Natalie wanted to sleep, and I got sunburned."

*That is curious. The ring must have worn off.*

Nick looked surprised. Natalie had brought up the idea, but since he hadn't completely burned up, he'd thought it was somehow his fault. "Oh."

"I would guess that your reaction to the sun is not entirely physical, but partly magical as well."

"Tell that to the scientific community." Nick said with a chuckle. "From what I've been reading, they're absolutely positive that there is a logical, rational explanation for everything as far as vampires and werewolves are concerned. They think the ability to fly is just a genetic combination that hasn't been discovered in normal humans yet, and they use psychobabble to enlighten us about our reaction to holy water and garlic."

*Yet you remain convinced that a cure is possible.*

"Why shouldn't it be? Doctors can do things with technology that would have been considered magic when I was mortal."

The faerie dragon yawned. *True. I am going back to sleep. This bed is far too comfortable.*

Nick stretched out, avoiding touching the dragon with his feet. A moment later, he fell asleep.

* * * * *

End of part 7

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 8/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

A man with fair skin, black hair and emerald green eyes watched Don Schanke and his family from a distance. His features looked as if they had been carefully chiseled. He was strikingly handsome, and simply dressed in a solid black T-shirt and black jeans. Also, he wore a silver pendant shaped like a traditional Chinese dragon with rubies for eyes. His presence was sufficiently hidden, so the werewolf could not sense him.

Stretching out with his own skill, Hei Long could sense a vampire nearby. He felt another presence too, one that was all too familiar. He cursed under his breath in a long forgotten tongue. The faerie dragon, Xiao Xing, was not so nearly as formidable as her dragon companion, but her magic was powerful enough that Hei Long considered her a threat. He could not attack them all together. A ruse to separate them formed in his mind.

* * * * *

Jenny was sneaking around the corner to squirt her dad, when someone grabbed her from behind. She tried to scream, but a hand clamped over her mouth. As she squirmed, Hei Long tightened his arm lock.

"You are coming with me, whether you like it or not."

Schanke sensed powerful evil and looked around frantically. He saw his daughter struggling in the arms of a stranger. The stench of darkness intertwined with power made him nearly retch. It was like the smell of rotten eggs combined with raw sewage, burnt macaroni and cheese, his mother-in-law's fruit cake, and all mingled with the smell of sulfur and ashes and blood that was the normal smell of a very old dragon. Schanke barely managed to keep the contents of his stomach down.

"No!" Don exclaimed, throwing his water pistol to the ground in frustration. His real gun was in the house, locked up in a drawer. A growl escaped from his throat. "Freeze! I'm a cop!"

Jenny's would-be kidnapper gave him an icy look that could have frozen the Sahara desert. This was Hei Long. Whatever doubts Don had faded. Schanke wasn't going to let the bad guy take away his kid without a fight, ancient and evil dragon or not.

Hei Long laughed and made a few strange hand gestures. "You will soon be an unconscious cop."

Schanke transformed in a few heartbeats to his furry state. His oversized T-shirt and sweat pants now fit *very* snugly. "I don't think so. Let the girl go."

"Not a chance."

The werewolf growled menacingly. "You really don't want to see me get mad."

Hei Long also growled, and he was better at it. His eyes flashed red. "And you do not wish to see me lose my temper, little wolf. Go run and hide somewhere with your tail between your legs; you'd be better off doing that then provoking me."

"You are under arrest for kidnapping and trespassing . . ."

"Hah!" The dragon spat, and lost it. He released the spell he'd just prepared.

Schanke's neighbors watching the confrontation gaped as a softball-sized sphere of flame shot from Hei Long's hand. Schanke yelped and ducked. Myra grabbed the hose, which had been running water to fill the water pistols, and bravely doused the fireball before it struck the house.

"That was great, hon!" Don exclaimed. "Keep it up!"

Myra grinned.

A sleepy Nick stumbled out the front door and blinked several times as his eyes adjusted. "What's going on?"

"Duck!" Schanke advised.

Hei Long hurled another fireball. The vampire used his super speed to dive behind the Caddy. Myra extinguished that fireball too.

"I've got plenty more water where that came from," she shouted.

Realizing the fireballs weren't working, Hei Long started to cast a different spell. Schanke snuck around the cars and tackled the bad guy, giving Jenny an opportunity to run. As the werewolf brandished his claws, Jenny tripped over the hose.

"Okay, now you seriously managed to **** me off," Don said, glowering. "First you try to kidnap my kid, then you try to scorch me and my pal Nick here. I'm giving you one last chance to surrender. Got it?"

"I never surrender to anyone, especially not to a mortal of any kind."

Hei Long threw a punch, misjudging Schanke's speed to evade it. The werewolf moved in a blur, so fast that even Nick with his vampiric senses could barely see him. Then Schanke pulled back and punched with all his might.

Don could tell he'd hit his opponent hard. Hei Long's nose appeared to be broken and a slight trickle of blood was streaming down his cheek from the werewolf's claws. However, Schanke's moment of triumph was brief. The dragon recovered and let out an inhumanly loud roar. His eyes blazed red as he muttered something in a bizarre language and moved his fingers in a pattern too fast to discern. Then, a bright light flashed from his hand and Schanke dropped to the ground, unconscious.

With an angry yowl, a black cat shot out of the front door. *You have endangered us all with your careless use of magic, you fool! Now they will know of us!*

Nick heard Xiao Xing's voice. It did not take a great mental leap to realize that she was mad at the other dragon.

"It does not matter," Hei Long replied. "That will be the least of your problems, small one."

The cat hissed and sprang forward. The air rippled in front of her, then a bolt of electricity appeared from nowhere to strike the bad guy. Hei Long was smoldering. With a defiant look on his face, he aimed a fireball at the feline.

He'd forgotten about Myra. She doused the flames before they reached the little black cat. Hei Long snarled, turned around and cast a spell which caused Myra to fall asleep. Nick caught her before she hit the ground.

"Ah, yes, my fanged friend. You really shouldn't be out in the sunlight, you know."

"It doesn't bother me like it used to."

"So Xing Long gave you the Ring of the Phoenix, did he? I can work around that."

Nick gently laid Myra on the grass and ducked as a wave of some sort of purple gas flew past him. "You will not get away with this," he said.

Hei Long gave an evil laugh that sent chills down the vampire's spine. "Want to make a bet?" He aimed another spell at the faerie dragon, who had been casting something. The cat gave a trilling meow, almost like a war cry, and transformed into her natural state. She was limited to the magic available in her feline form, as Hei Long was also limited. Being a dragon and not a faerie dragon, he was much more powerful. This way, Xiao Xing wouldn't have any disadvantages. The black dragon had already made it clear that revealing their secret didn't matter to him, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get what he wanted.

Jenny's eyes widened in wonder. First vampires, then werewolves, now some kind of monsters with magic super powers? At least, the little cat was on their side. The cat looked like a dragon! What was going on? She didn't know. Jenny wanted to run, but she had done something to her ankle when she'd tripped and couldn't stand up. "Nick!"

The vampire looked at her. "I need my sword. It's downstairs, in the basement. Can you get it?"

"I can't move, Nick. I'm hurt."

"Oh, no. Stay here, then. I'll get it."

Nick used his super vamp speed to get to the door and dash downstairs. As he did that, Hei Long aimed his finger at the faerie dragon. Multi-colored streams of light snaked forward and wrapped around the creature like vines. The dragon struggled but could not get free.

"No!" Jenny screamed. She picked up the nearest object she could find, which happened to be her dad's squirt gun, and threw it at the bad guy as hard as she could. She knew it wouldn't hurt him, but she was mad.

Hei Long turned his glowing red eyes towards the girl. "You are beginning to annoy me, child." He chanted and Jenny fell asleep.

The faerie dragon managed to break free of the spell as the other dragon was distracted. She growled, and the magical fight between the two dragons ensued.

Still in human form, Hei Long cast spell after spell. The faerie dragon knew the appropriate defensive measures, but her mental reserves of energy were quickly drying up. Finally, in desperation, Hei Long cast a very powerful spell. Its appearance was far subtler than the firework-type magic he'd used before, simply distorting the air as it rippled like a wave. Its effect was much stronger than any of the others.

Xiao Xing tried to use a last-ditch counter spell, but there was no time for her to finish casting. The wave hit her and she dropped to the ground. No, she was not dead. Like the mortals, Xiao Xing was to become bait for the one Hei Long wanted - Nicholas DeBrabant. The vampire would be much easier to defeat. He would have few or no defenses against Hei Long's power. The dragon decided he would bring the mortals to a place where the vampire would not have any advantages if he decided to play the hero's role.

Hei Long was a general for years in the Chinese army; the task of strategist was one with which he was familiar. Basic tactics, such as separating your enemies when possible so they did not have strength in numbers - or playing on their weaknesses, were lessons a child could learn. Yet, oddly enough, simple strategies often worked when complex ones failed. Until he learned more about his enemies, it was better to play it safe.

Focusing on pushing the vampire part of himself into the farthest corners of his mind, Nick grasped Excalibur's hilt. The sword briefly gave off a blue glow. He dashed upstairs, only to find the Hei Long disappearing into thin air. The Schankes and Xiao Xing. There was a note left behind; Nick snatched it up. It was brief and to the point. Hei Long had taken them all to a cathedral and would be waiting for Nick there, if the vampire dared come to rescue them. He swore and ran back into the house, phoning in to report the kidnapping. Then he headed for the Caddy.

* * * * *

Father O'Hara recognized Captain Knight immediately as he opened the office door. The total incongruity of a vampire standing in a sunlit hallway in a church didn't escape him. The fact that Knight was carrying a sheathed antique sword did not escape O'Hara's notice, either. The corners of his mouth turned upward in a smile.

"I'm Father O'Hara. How can I help you?"

Nick flipped his badge out of habit more than anything else. The priest had recognized him, but maybe the badge would also convince him that Nick meant no harm. "I'm looking for some people who were taken against their will. Have you seen anything strange today?" He gave the priest a grin. "Other than me being here?"

"No, Officer. But then, I've been here planning weddings all day. It's quite possible someone sneaked in. There's no Saturday afternoon mass, so it gets awfully quiet. I'm probably the only one here."

A thought entered Nick's mind. The most likely place Hei Long could have taken the Schanke family would be the basement. He asked O'Hara if there was one.

"Yes. Would you like me to show you where it is?"

Nick nodded.

There were many questions O'Hara wanted to ask Nick Knight as they walked through the corridor, but he settled on just one. "How is it possible that you are here during the daytime? I thought you had a terrible allergy to sunlight."

"I do. There's been a development that allows me to withstand the sun temporarily. I can only be outside for a short while, but it's better than nothing."

"Oh. Does being on holy ground bother you?"

"No." Nick chuckled. "Holy ground doesn't bother me, just holy water."

"I see."

* * * * *

End of part 8

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 9/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

They walked for some time in awkward silence. Finally, the priest said, "The door to the basement is right this way. There's not much down there, just Christmas decorations and things like that."

O'Hara went around the next corner and opened a door. Nick caught a glimpse of glowing red eyes as the priest felt on the wall for the light switch. Something furry grabbed his hand. He yelped in surprise.

"It's just me," Schanke said. His voice was very gruff. "I just woke up and heard you coming down the hallway. Where are we?"

"This is the Cathedral of Saint Joan of Arc," O'Hara replied. He'd seen the man on TV, and knew that Captain Schanke worked with the vampire, but this was the priest's first meeting with him in person.

"Is anyone else down there?" Nick asked.

"No," Schanke replied.

"We have to assume they're here somewhere." Nick showed Hei Long's note to him.

"How long do you have left in the sun?"

"Not very long."

"Why don't you stay here for a while, and I'll look for them?" It only took the werewolf a few seconds to assume his normal human form.

"I don't think we should separate. One of us alone could easily be captured."

Schanke nodded. "Let me know if you need to find a nice dark broom closet. Or a nice dark confessional," he said with a grin. "I *still* haven't forgotten that."

Nick looked sheepish.

"What's this all about?" O'Hara asked.

"To make a long story short," Schanke answered, "Nick here pulled off a nearly perfect impersonation of an Irish priest one time. Man, he really got into it. Of course, he didn't have me fooled for a minute."

The vampire gave him an incredulous look. "Yeah, right. If I hadn't made that one little mistake, you'd have never known."

"I could tell it was a fake Irish accent."

Nick rolled his eyes. "I had you hook, line and sinker. Admit it."

"No way," Schanke protested. "You may have a good memory for accents, but anyone can tell it's not the real thing."

Nick sighed. They were wasting precious time. "Where do you want to start looking? We might as well make full use of that nose of yours."

Don gave his partner an irritated look. "I'm a werewolf, not a bloodhound."

"What's the difference?" asked the vampire with a grin. "Besides, it's your wife and daughter we're looking for."

Schanke had to admit Knight had a point. "All right."

The werewolf closed his eyes and sniffed. This was the first church he'd been inside since his transformation. It smelled different, but good. Certainly, it smelled better than the places he was used to. Reaching out with his senses, Don caught a whiff of two separate smells.

"Jenny is around here," Schanke remarked. "So is Myra."

"Good. Which way do we go?"

Don sniffed again. "That way," he said, pointing the way Nick had already come.

O'Hara was completely astounded. "That's incredible."

Schanke looked dumbfounded. He'd never expected anyone to use that word to describe him, especially something that seemed so normal now. Nick was the one with Supercop status. Nick had gotten his telephone number changed and unlisted because the reporters and talk show hosts were hounding him. Donald G. Schanke was just an ordinary guy doing his job. Nobody ever thought he was incredible, until now. This was something he could definitely get used to.

Schanke grinned. "Let's go."

* * * * *

Jenny awoke in total darkness. As she moved her hand, it brushed against something bristly, like a broom. Her foot hit something that rattled, probably a bucket. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the slit of light beneath the door. She tried the handle, but the door refused to open. To make things worse, it didn't look like a closet at home and Jenny had no idea where she was.

The girl pounded on the door several times, but heard no one come running to help. Frustrated, she paced in a circle as she tried to think of a way to get out. Now that her eyes were fully adjusted, Jenny could see a light above her and a string. At least with the light on, she could look for something to open the door with.

There wasn't much, but there on the shelf behind her was a box of paperclips. Jenny grabbed one, bent it out of shape, and set to work trying to pick the lock. Her father had shown her how to do it once, in case she ever got locked out of the house and none of the neighbors were around, after extracting a promise from her never to use it to do bad things.

"Please work," Jenny whispered under her breath while she jiggled the bent paperclip. "Pretty please." After what seemed like hours, but was in reality only a few minutes, the lock clicked open. "Yes!" The girl exclaimed.

Opening the door, she peered into the hallway. The area was lit by ribbons of colored light from stained-glass windows, which meant she was probably in a church of some kind. Jenny hoped her parents were okay, wherever they were. She ventured off to find someone who could help, and maybe even find her mom and dad.

* * * * *

Schanke caught his daughter's scent before he heard her footsteps. She was walking with a slight limp, but her heartbeat sounded strong. Jenny was all right! Flooded with relief, Schanke dashed around the next corner.

"Dad, Nick, you're here!" The girl exclaimed. "Where's Mom?"

"I haven't found her yet, but I know she's close. Come here, kiddo." Schanke swept Jenny into his arms. She was a skinny girl, and with his strength, it was like she weighed next to nothing. "Now, you stick by us. Okay?"

"Okay." She looked up at Nick curiously. "Are you all right? You look more pale than normal."

Schanke glanced at his partner and noticed the same thing. "Yeah, Knight, you could pass for a ghost -- or a vampire." He grinned, but then his expression changed. "Seriously, you okay?"

"I'm fine. A crucifix isn't likely to kill me unless it's used as a stake."

Schanke nodded. He inhaled deeply and caught the traces of his wife's perfume. It had never smelled sweeter. "Myra's this way."

"Lead on," Nick intoned.

* * * * *

Myra awoke and felt something furry next to her. "Donny?" No response. "Don?" It was almost pitch black, so she couldn't see anything. She sighed. "How are we going to get out of this one? I hope you have some bright ideas."

A light flared up from somewhere and Myra blinked, seeing that she was in the furnace room. The black cat that could turn into a tiny dragon sat on the floor, licking its paws. It looked for all the world like a normal cat, but Myra knew better. She'd seen it hurl lightning bolts across her lawn.

"Oh, it's you. Thanks."

*You're welcome.*

Myra was not entirely surprised to hear the faerie dragon's voice. She supposed if the creature could cast magical spells, talking wasn't out of the question. She tried the closet door, but it was locked.

"Do you have any ideas?" Myra felt a little silly talking to a cat, but the feline was probably her best chance of getting out.

*Stand aside, please, so I can see the lock.*

She stepped out of the way and watched in amazement as the lock clicked, seemingly of its own accord. So the creature had more than a few talents. Myra grinned. "Now, let's see if we can find my husband."

That idea seemed to suit Xiao Xing just fine. The small black cat padded into the hallway. Her toenails loudly clicked on the tile floor. Someone had just started to practice on an organ, and suddenly Myra realized where she was. This section of the hallway was plain; there were no religious decorations or anything.

She had been here once with a friend, shortly after the plane crash, in hopes of receiving some sort of comfort. Now the stark walls reminded Myra of how she'd felt until Donny came back into her life, cold and lonely. Jenny had provided some support, but she was only a child and Myra had needed the kind of love only a life mate could give. Unwilling to play the field, she'd thrown herself into work and distanced herself from Donny's concerned friends, who meant well but only served to remind her of him. The day Nick called with the news that Donny was alive, it was a dream come true. Myra hoped that he was all right now. She heard more footsteps echoing through the corridor, then recognized Nick's voice as he said something about starting to feel a bit warm. Then they stopped.

"Nick!" Myra shouted. "Wait!"

"Myra!" Don exclaimed. He grinned as she ran into him - literally. "Hey, hon, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, dear."

Myra noticed immediately that the vampire looked very pale. There was a red sheen to his forehead. "Nick, are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he answered, sounding very tired.

"You look like you're ready to pass out," Myra said.

Schanke grabbed his arm. "Here, sit down for a sec."

Don led Nick to a nearby bench, where the vampire very nearly fainted instead of just sitting down. They were in a windowless section of the building, and the respite from the sun was welcome. Nick shut his eyes and waited for the queasiness to pass. He wasn't sure if the illness was due to sun exposure or being inside a church or both, but he could definitely use a drink of plasma. It would have to wait. Slowly, his normal color - or lack thereof - returned.

"Feeling better?" Schanke asked, noticing that Knight looked slightly less like Count Dracula on a good day.

Nick nodded. "Yeah. Let's get out of here, okay? I don't want to spend any more time here than is absolutely necessary."

"Fine by me. Hey, how come we haven't run into the bad guy yet?"

"Good question. You haven't smelled him?"

"Nope."

A strange chill ran down Nick's spine as a thought struck him. "There's not even the slightest trace of a scent?"

"No," Schanke answered.

Suddenly, he realized why Nick was questioning him. That was odd, especially since the dragon had to transport them all here. There would have been at least a lingering scent in the rooms where he'd put them. But there wasn't. Why not? Was he masking it somehow?

*It is possible,* Xiao Xing conceded. *There is such a spell.*

*Can you get rid of it?* Don asked, concentrating hard to not speak out loud.

*I can try, but I have to shift forms.*

*Do it, then!*

There was a ripple in the air as Xiao Xing shapeshifted. O'Hara gasped in surprise. Her musical trill wavered in pitch. Bright sparkles appeared, flashing briefly. Then the priest's form began to change. Nick drew Excalibur and the sword flared up like a blue beacon.

"Run!" Nick shouted to Schanke. "Get out of here, now. Go to the Caddy and get my cell phone. Call for backup!" He tossed Schanke the keys.

"Myra, go and take Jenny with you," Don said as he handed her the keys. "I'm staying."

"Schanke," Nick protested.

"We're still partners. That means I back you up, no matter what. You're a heckuva lot braver than I am, but you're not indestructible. Am I right?"

Nick nodded in reply. He didn't want Schanke hurt, but Don was right, and they didn't have time to argue.

Myra grabbed Jenny's hand. "Come on, sweetie, let's get out of here."

Jenny looked at her dad. "Are you going to be okay?"

Schanke smiled. "Sure, munchkin. Nick has a magic sword and we have a faerie dragon on our side. What could go wrong?" He was trying to reassure himself as much as his daughter. Everything could go wrong, of course. Schanke firmly believed in Murphy's Law.

Jenny nodded. "Okay," she said and left with her mom.

Hei Long finished transforming. In his natural state, he took up most of the hallway. His gleaming black wings brushed against both walls and he had to keep his head bent down. Hei Long's scales were darker than ebony. This was the sort of color that no dye or computer-generated image could simulate. This was a shade of black that absorbed all light, and made the darkness of the night look like only a soft grey shadow. His eyes blazed red, pulsating with an evil intelligence behind them.

The dragon roared in a thunderous voice loud enough to shake the walls, "I have toyed with you long enough. You are nothing but prey to me. You *will* die."

* * * * *

End of part 9

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 10/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

Nick took a swing and managed to strike the dragon's hide. Gooey yellow blood squirted out of the wound. The vampire took a couple of steps backward, but wasn't quite fast enough to avoid getting the dragon's blood on his face. Nick cried out in surprise. It stung like acid and stank like sulfur. The pain was enough to make him vamp out. Schanke hadn't seen Knight in full vamp mode. Sure, he'd seen the vampire's fangs and yellow eyes, but he had never seen his partner really angry. He drew a sharp breath when the vampire's eyes turned as red as the dragon's. Schanke switched into furry gear. He shapeshifted in the space of a heartbeat, remembering just in time to take off his shirt.

Nick took the full brunt of the dragon's attack. The magic of the ring gave him a protective shield which absorbed the damage from the fire. It was red in color, though he couldn't tell through his vamp vision. The instinctive terror of fire was impossible to restrain. Xiao Xing trilled musically and cast a fire shield around Schanke. She had natural protection, but the werewolf didn't.

*Thanks,* Schanke thought at her. He was getting better at telepathic communication. He could sense Nick's thoughts through their link when the vampire wasn't actively blocking them. *Watch out!*

Knight dodged Hei Long's claws. This link was starting to become useful. He didn't know if the faerie dragon had to concentrate to make it work, or if once established, it worked on its own. Either way, he was thankful to have been trained in his own abilities. Schanke was learning the hard way.

By now, Nick had been severely weakened by long exposure to the sun. He wasn't sure how much longer the ring would protect him. Not wanting to take a chance, he ducked the next time Hei Long attacked with his fiery weapon. Nick stood up and swung Excalibur again, slashing across the dragon's torso. He yelled as the acidic blood spurted out and stung him. Somehow he managed to accidentally swallow it. The vampire gulped and staggered backward, clawing at his throat. Schanke shouted his name, but Nick couldn't respond. Excalibur dropped to the floor with a clatter and went dark. Nick had never felt so feverish in his life; it was as if his insides had become an inferno. Then something incredible happened.

Schanke stared at Nick. The vampire was evaporating. There was no other way to describe it. What in blazes was that crazy stuff doing to him? Thinking Nick was dying and there was nothing else to do, Schanke picked up the sword. It glowed bright enough to blind him for a split second. He felt a surge of power run through his muscles and ran the sword straight through Hei Long without even thinking. The werewolf had only the faintest inkling of his own strength, and was amazed by it. The dragon's shock was immediately replaced by fear.

"You insolent fool!" The dragon roared. This impudent mortal had dealt him a grave injury. This child of Luna - no, pup, for he was not even fully aware of all of his abilities - had managed to pierce his heart with Excalibur, the one sword with the power to unmake him. What fate was this to die at the hand of an unworthy opponent? The vampire, at least, was not mortal. Hei Long tried to cast one final spell, but his power ebbed away. The dragon hit the ground with an enormous thud.

Schanke let go of the sword as hot blood began to flow over it. He ran to help Nick. Don's breath caught in his throat as he saw Nick becoming more transparent.

"Knight! Geez, you're already a ghost! Oh, man. I was too late."

Nick chuckled softly. "I'm no more dead than I was an hour ago, Schanke."

"But I can see right through you!"

"I swallowed some dragon blood. It's potent stuff. A legend among my kind says ancient vampires had the power to transform into mist. Apparently, it's not just a story."

Schanke gaped at him. "You're not dead?"

"That's debatable even when I'm solid."

The werewolf shook his furry head in disbelief. "Here's your sword."

Nick reached but could not grasp it. "I think you'd better hold onto it for a while."

"I'm a werewolf, not a medieval knight. I don't know the first thing about how to use this. Stay away from the pointy end. That's all I know," Don replied truthfully.

The vampire looked at the black dragon collapsed on the floor. "Oh, I'd say you did fairly well."

Schanke looked at it and began to laugh. "Ah, man. Nobody's ever going to believe this."

The other squad cars arrived with blaring sirens. Whatever Myra told the dispatcher, it must have been good. There were four backup cops, along with Captain Stonetree. Xiao Xing made a quick exit.

"Knight? Schanke? What is going on? I got a call from my dispatcher saying you two are in up to your fangs . . ." Stonetree stopped in his tracks as he realized his former detective was no longer solid. His jaw dropped.

"It's all right," the vampire replied in a hollow voice and materialized into solid form. "I'm okay."

"Great. Schanke, what about you?"

"Ah, I'm furry. I mean fine." He winced at the Freudian slip and quickly shapeshifted.

Stonetree nodded. "Good. You two want to explain what this is?" He gestured at the black dragon's corpse and noticed the sword that was almost entirely covered in yellow stuff. "Nick? Is that yours?"

"Not exactly." The vampire took a deep breath. "It's a long story, Captain."

"What about the sun?"

"I'm okay for right now," Nick replied. Going into mist form had completely repaired his body from the previous sun exposure. Too bad it hadn't gotten rid of the dragon's blood on his clothes. "I have a form of temporary protection. To make a long story short, that dragon was masquerading as a human."

"Did you say dragon?"

"Yes. I know it sounds unbelievable. Dragons can change shape, but not like werewolves. They can take almost any form. I have seen evil in many forms, Captain, but not like this. I've never heard of dragons being real until now."

"Okay. It's good to see the two of you again, in any shape."

Stonetree saw Schanke pulling the sword out of the dragon's dead body. He'd wrapped his T-shirt around it to avoid touching the acidic blood. The sword gave off a blue light.

"Nick, where *did* you find that sword?" The mortal captain asked in awe.

"It found me. Actually, Schanke was the one who struck the final blow. I couldn't hold onto Excalibur in mist form."

"That's Excalibur?!"

"Yep."

"The reporters are going to eat up this story, you know. I think I see a news crew coming right now."

"Great," Nick said. "Maybe I can get them to stop calling my unlisted number during the day when I'm sleeping."

Stonetree laughed. "Good luck."

Suddenly, Myra and Jenny burst in, followed by a fluttering faerie dragon.

"Dad!" Schanke's daughter exclaimed.

He gave her a hug. "Hey, kiddo."

"The TV people are everywhere," Jenny reported. "That lady from the 6:00 news is here. You're gonna be famous."

"Naw," Schanke said. "I doubt it. Nick's the one they want. I'm just the sidekick."

Don was joking, but Knight thought he detected a bit of jealousy in his partner's voice. "Schank, you saved the day. Not me."

"You coulda done it just the same if you hadn't ingested that dragon's blood."

Nick shrugged. "Who knows?"

Stonetree looked at Schanke. "Let me give you a piece of advice, Captain Schanke. Don't underestimate yourself. My grandfather used to say that self-doubt could bring the strongest man in the world to his knees. You killed a dragon and survived. Fate, or God, or Mother Nature - whatever you want to believe - has given you an incredible advantage. There's an old saying: with great power comes great responsibility.* Use it wisely."

Schanke nodded. "I will."

* * * * *

End of part 10

*This quote is from the Spiderman comic books

The Scent of Darkness

See disclaimers in part 1

Part 11/11

By Emily M. Hanson

*******************

Natalie and Nick watched the news. He'd stopped at her apartment before going to work. Schanke was confident, but not overconfident, as he gave his statement to the press. He answered a few questions. They wanted to know everything, it seemed. They queried him about things that had nothing to do with the case, like could he actually turn into a wolf and was he allergic to silver? The werewolf was more patient than Nick would have been in the same circumstances. Schanke answered most of the reporters' questions, ignoring only the tabloid-type ones. Then he turned to the vampire with a grin. "Now you get to have all the fun."

Nat laughed, knowing that Nick was not having any fun in the least. "You weren't too mean to them, I hope."

"Who, me?"

Predictably, the first question was, "How old are you really, Captain Knight?"

Nick pulled out his driver's license and checked it. "According to this, I'm 39. I was 35 when I was brought across."

The reporter chuckled. "Come on. Inquiring minds want to know," she quipped. "How old are you?"

He did a quick mental calculation. "I was born in the year 1193, so that would make me 807. My last birthday was a couple of weeks ago."

"What's your real name?" Another reporter shouted out. "Not Vlad Tepish, I hope."

Nick looked annoyed as he responded. "No, my real name is Nicholas DeBrabant."

There was a brief silence as most of the journalists present made the mental connection. Finally, one asked, "Would you have anything to do with the Brabant foundation?"

The vampire grinned impishly. "Maybe. Possibly."

"Are you the head of the foundation?" The reporter asked.

Nick saw that Natalie and Schanke were looking expectantly at him. He took a deep breath. If he said yes, it meant there were no more secrets. Everything was out in the open. Nick realized he had grown tired of pretending to be someone he was not. "Yes."

There were more questions and Nick did his best to answer them, giving out only a few "no comment" responses. Then it was over.

Nick leaned over and surprised Natalie on the sofa by giving her a kiss. He kissed her on the cheek, but it was a kiss.

"Would you like to watch the sunset with me before we go in to work?"

"I would love that."

He pulled her off the couch, then they went downstairs together.

* * * * *

Vachon tapped his finger on a pencil. It was not a pen, a keyboard or a mouse, but a good old-fashioned pencil. The mortals around him were slightly agitated. Their heartbeats had increased slightly and some of them were sweating. They were all taking an exam. The questions were no-brainers. As a vampire, Javier had an extraordinary talent for memorization. He was in an accelerated training group for Rookies with some experience and lots of talent.

Vachon had managed to convince the Captain in charge of training that his time spent in the Spanish Navy counted as law enforcement. No matter that he'd been rigging sails, scouting for land, and trying to keep the drunken human sailors from stealing his guitar and scant belongings. He'd been forced to guard pirates taken as prisoners. On those occasions, Javier grabbed a stool from an empty cell and played the guitar until his shift was over. He finished the test in just under ten minutes, evidently a new record by the surprised look in the instructor's eyes.

"Vachon, can I talk to you?" Detective O'Connor whispered. She was a petite woman with short red hair who could karate chop through almost anything made of wood, but you'd never know it by looking at her.

"Yeah, sure."

As they stepped into the hallway, Detective O'Connor remarked, "You're obviously very intelligent and talented. Why can't I get you to be here on time? You were fifteen minutes late today. You're always fifteen minutes late."

"Try starting the class after sunset for a change."

"Why after sunset?"

"I'm a vampire."

O'Connor looked amazed and angry at the same time. "Blasted HR, they never tell me anything important! You'd think they could tell me one little thing, but no. They just throw you guys at me and say here's a new batch of Rookies, teach 'em."

Vachon chuckled. "Ah, bureaucracy."

"Yeah. So if you don't mind me asking, how old are you?"

"Older than you."

"Do you know Captain Knight?"

"Yeah, we've run into each other a few times over the centuries. I'm not even close to his age."

"Okay. Tell you what, I'll try to change the start time. If I do, I want to see you here at the beginning of class. Got it?"

"Yes, ma'am."

She winced. "It's Detective O'Connor. Not ma'am, not milady, not Ms. O'Connor or anything else."

"Milady? That's medieval. I'm not that old."

"Oh, now we're getting somewhere." She grinned. "I know you're older than me but not older than Nick Knight or medieval times."

"I was a Conquistador, back when I was young and mortal and stupid."

"Something tells me you were never stupid, Vachon, not even as a mortal." The detective walked back into the classroom.

The rest of Javier's instructors were not half as tolerant or understanding. They were men in their forties and fifties, one was a former US Navy Seal who'd moved up to Canada after his wife's dot com company got bought out by Microsoft. All these guys seemed to care about was how many regulations Vachon could memorize and how fast he could memorize them.

A classmate stood over his shoulder watching him on the computer. It was funny, Vachon thought, how they thought doing something faster meant you knew how to do it better.

"No, click there. Yeah, and then go up there and . . ."

Vachon turned around. "Haven't you got anything better to do?"

The kid shrugged. He had just barely turned 18 and graduated from high school. He was a real computer whiz, supposedly. "Not really."

"Well, go bug someone else. I'm busy."

"Ok."

No sooner had that kid gone, then another one was standing behind Vachon. The kid was a girl this time, probably 19.

"Hey, I can show you a real cool shortcut if you want."

Vachon gave her a charming grin. "Really?"

"Yeah, all you have do to is this." She clicked the mouse button a few times.

"Gee, thanks. I couldn't have figured that out on my own." Vachon was being sarcastic, but the girl didn't notice.

"No problem," she said and went away.

Vachon sighed.

"Having computer problems?" The instructor, the ex-Navy Seal, asked. "I'm sure you're not quite as accustomed to using these things as most of us are. You'll get used to it."

"Sir, I'm fine. Believe it or not, I've been using computers for a long time now. It's not like I was asleep for four hundred years."

"Well, don't be afraid to ask for help. This isn't the easiest system to work with."

*Idiot,* Vachon muttered under his breath in Spanish as Detective Ellingson walked away. The vampire sighed. What he wouldn't give to whammy them all. Too bad it was against the rules.

* * * * *

As Nick walked in to work, he saw Vachon and Tracy arguing about something. Soon, the subject of their squabble became clear.

"Vachon, you can't just whammy them."

"Whammying them would at least make it tolerable. How in the world did you deal with it, Nick?"

Nick understood Vachon's frustration well. He'd wanted to whammy most of his senior officers in the beginning, too. But after the accident with Czajkowski, he'd changed his mind.

"It will get better, trust me. The stuff they're trying to teach you will come in handy."

Vachon gave him a skeptical look. "The voice of experience, Knight?"

"Yep. Back when I was a cop in the states, my partner nearly got killed because of my inexperience. I made a stupid mistake. He survived, but he probably wouldn't have been injured in the first place if I'd known what to do. The training will help, Vachon."

The younger vampire sighed. "Okay, I'll take your word for it."

"Good."

Nick sat down at his desk to check his e-mail. There was one he hadn't expected. His eyes widened as he recognized the name.

From: Czajkowski22@aol.com

To: Knightn@toronto.police.org

Subject: Reunion

Hi, Nick. Saw you and your partner on TV the other day. Man, you haven't changed a bit, except for the hair. Wish you'd have told me, but I understand that you couldn't. Anyway, I'm going to be up in your neck of the woods next week. I'm retired now. Some buddies and me are going on a fishing trip. I could head into Toronto for a while if you wanted to get together and have a few drinks and catch up. Here is a photo. As you can see, I have a few gray hairs. The boy is my grandson, Timmy. He turned seven in May. Let me know either way.

Nick read the e-mail over again and quickly sent his reply, including his work phone number. A few minutes later, the telephone rang. The area code was in the States.

"Toronto police, Captain Knight."

The voice was aged, but Nick recognized it immediately. "Captain Knight now, eh?"

"Czajkowski, long time no hear from."

"Yeah. I'll say." They chatted amiably for a few minutes, then Nick's former cop partner asked, "So what do you think?"

They made plans, talked some more and finally disconnected. Knight looked up as Schanke came in.

"You're never going to believe who just called," Nick said.

"Who?"

"I was a cop in Chicago a long time ago. My old partner, who's now retired, is coming up for a fishing trip next week. He found my e-mail address somehow. Anyway, he and I are going to meet up."

Schanke nodded. "Great." The werewolf sat down and rummaged through his files until he found what he was looking for. "Here we go. I've been meaning to take a look at this."

"What is it?"

"A new case. It came in late yesterday."

The file read like a chapter from a science fiction novel. Nick glanced up at Schanke. "You know, after that whole thing with the dragons, this seems pretty mundane."

Schanke chuckled. "Yeah, it does, doesn't it?"

Nick set the file on his desk and took a drink from a silver thermos that he had started bringing to work. A few people gave him strange looks as they walked by, but most paid no attention. Two administrative assistants stopped by to admire the stuffed vampire bat Jenny Schanke had given him as a birthday gift. It was perched atop his computer monitor, along with a plastic Holstein cow that had a blood donation sticker stuck on it someone had given him as a gag gift. That was the beginning of just another night in the Paranormal Investigations department.

* * * * *

End of part 11

***THE END***
 
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