Wanderers of the Dark (PG-13)

EmilyH

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Wanderers of the Dark

Part 1/9

By Emily M. Hanson

Disclaimers: I do not own the characters of Forever Knight. They are owned by Sony/TriStar. Permission is given to archive. Any minor characters not recognizable from the TV series are mine. Thank you to my beta readers, Alexa Knight and Angela Gottfred. The title is from Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, Scene 1.

Time frame: Approximately one week after The Scent of Darkness.

This is a sequel in the Schanke's Return series. The previous stories are archived at my web site, http://www.starbase-eprime.us

* * * * *

Judy Simpson tried not to gape at the man who'd just walked into her office. He was very tall with slightly curly golden hair and intense blue eyes. For some reason, she hadn't expected those eyes to have as much life as they did, or a mischievous twinkle. It was almost impossible to believe that the man in front of her was an 800-year-old vampire. He wasn't even very pale.

"Miss Simpson?"

"Yes, that's me." Nervously she extended a hand.

The way the woman's heart was pounding, Nick was surprised her teeth didn't chatter. He shook he hand. "I'm Nick Knight, and I've been in the market for a new home since my loft was burned down several weeks ago."

A young man with a fanatical hatred for vampires had been a pawn in one of Divia's schemes, after stumbling across a rock the vampiress had enchanted with the power to start fires. If not for a timely rescue from Schanke and the fire department, Nick wouldn't have survived. He'd been staying in Schanke's basement ever since. After a hectic few weeks in Paranormal Investigations, Nick finally had a chance to go house hunting.

"Ah, yes. Um, why don't you tell me what you're looking for? After you sit down, that is."

Nick took a seat. "You can relax, Miss Simpson. I don't bite," he said with a grin.

She blushed slightly. "Of course. Now what price range are you interested in?"

"I don't want to go higher than five or six million dollars."

Judy looked surprised. "Are you sure?" She would have thought that the head of the Brabant Foundation, the largest charitable organization in Canada, would certainly want to spend more.

Nick nodded. "I don't need a huge place. I'd prefer something near a wooded area, with lots of shade."

"Okay, let's see what we have."

After about half an hour, Nick found the perfect house. It was on the outskirts of town and about forty-five minutes from work. He had the Ring of the Phoenix he'd gotten from Xing Long to provide added sunlight protection in case he needed to leave before nightfall to get to work. Besides, Nick could fly to work if he had to. Arriving at work without the Caddy wouldn't be a problem anymore, since everyone knew he was a vampire now.

"Do you have any information about the neighbors?" He asked.

"Yes. The one on the north side is a computer programmer with a wife and a six-year-old daughter. I believe he works for Starsoft Corp. The other is an actor whose name you may or may not be familiar with -- Derrick Davis. He does sitcoms, mostly. He appeared in a made-for-TV science fiction movie last year."

"Doesn't sound familiar, but then I don't watch much TV. When is the earliest I can see the place?"

Judy checked her appointment book. "We could go over right now. The owners are gone all week on vacation."

"Great."

After a long drive, they found the house. The driveway wound around a small hill. The house was surrounded almost entirely by huge oak and maple trees, and a few evergreens. Nick glimpsed the neighbor's homes only by peering through the thick foliage.

Judy produced a key and unlocked the door. "Wow. I was here three days ago. This house seems even bigger now. Where would you like to start, the lower level or the upper one?"

Nick shrugged. "Lower is fine with me."

"Okay. This is the living room. The stenciled borders you see were done by the owners themselves. There's plenty of space here . . ."

Nick held up his hand as he sniffed the air. "Do you smell something funny?"

Judy shook her head.

"The odor is coming from that hallway. Where does it lead to?"

"Just a home office."

Nick sniffed again. "Could you show me where the office is?"

"Sure." Judy led him down the hallway. "It's right here. Oh, that does smell," she remarked while opening the door. Quickly, the realtor averted her eyes from the corpse in the room. The cause of death was obvious, a gunshot wound to the head. "Ugh. I'm glad you're a cop."

"Do you have a cell phone? Mine is in the car," Nick said. "Right here."

"Thanks. This guy wasn't the owner, was he?"

"No," Judy responded. Her voice wavered but only slightly.

"Are you okay? Maybe you should go in the other room and sit down while I make the phone call to work."

"I'm fine, thanks. I've seen some crazy stuff, but nothing quite this bad. There was one time I was showing a house, and the family literally had a skeleton in a closet. Turns out their son was going to medical school, and it was a fake skeleton. But it was definitely a surprise to find."

"Yeah, I'll bet," Nick replied.

Knight phoned in the homicide. Then he noticed several marks on the desk, which looked like claw marks. But they were too spread apart and deep to be animal claws. There was also a thick, dark strand of hair on the floor. The victim had blonde hair. Upon further investigation, Nick noticed several more dark hair strands and a stray bullet. At first glance, it looked silver. He figured the victim and the killer were probably both werewolves.

The mouse pad had a beautiful picture of a gray wolf. The computer was on, and the background also had a wolf picture. Nick looked around and saw a framed poster. It was sort of sci-fi like, with a wolf staring up at a starry sky filled with comets and ringed planets. "Is either owner of the house a werewolf?"

Judy shrugged. "I don't have the foggiest idea. I've only met them briefly. I know as much about werewolves as I do about vampires, which isn't a lot." She blushed.

"Okay. It'll take forensics a while to get here. I'd like to look around a bit. Could you show me the upstairs level? Maybe we'll find a clue there."

The realtor nodded.

Upstairs, Nick saw the library and master bedroom. The book titles ranged from computer programming and science fiction to world history, poetry, and business management. It was an eclectic collection. There was a beautiful painting of a wolf on a snowy, pine-dotted landscape howling at the full moon. The bedroom was decorated in a Native American motif, with several small paintings of wolves. A dream catcher hung above the bed. The d?cor only served to boost Nick's theory about the werewolf connection.

The vampire picked up the cell phone and called Don Schanke, who wasn't happy about being interrupted from supper, but stopped grumbling as soon as he found out why Nick was calling. Schanke said he would be there as soon as he could.

"Thanks," Nick said as he handed the cell phone back to Judy.

"No problem."

Nick went back downstairs to investigate further, and saw an interesting-looking icon on the computer screen that was labeled "Territories." He double-clicked on it and a map of North America came up. There were various tabs labeled with the names of continents and sub-categories of countries.

Clicking on a red shaded area that took up part of Canada and the American states of Washington and California rewarded Nick with a display of information about the Crimson Claw werewolf pack. The names of the pack leader, the shadow (pack leader in training), and all of the members were included along with dates as to when they joined. When he clicked on another shaded area, it brought up the Silver Talon information. Schanke's name was on the list. It was too bad he couldn't print out the documents without a search warrant.

"Wow," Don Schanke remarked as he drove up.

This was the house Knight was interested in buying? It was huge. He knew Nick could easily afford it, and probably a dozen more just like it. If he had half of the Brabant fortune, Schanke would have bought a larger place and retired early. But then, he wasn't planning to live forever. Nick Knight and a young woman came out to meet him.

"This sure is a classy place, partner," Schanke remarked. "Gotta admit, I like your style."

"Thanks. This is Judy Simpson, my realtor."

"Nice to meet you. Where's the dead guy?"

"I'll show you," Nick replied.

Schanke sniffed tentatively as he approached the room. He stopped just short of actually entering the room. "Woah. Something's definitely not right here. I don't just mean that the guy was murdered, I mean something else." The hairs rose slightly on the nape of the werewolf's neck and he felt goose bumps on his arms. "Knight, do you believe in ghosts?"

"Why?"

"This is going to sound crazy, but I think there's something - or someone - in that room besides the corpse."

Suddenly an eerie moan pierced the air. Judy shivered and took a few steps back. Schanke went into furry mode. Luckily, he was wearing a loose enough T-shirt that it didn't rip. The realtor gaped at him for a few moments. Knowing that he was a werewolf and actually seeing him transform were two different things. But she recovered quickly.

"Who's there?" Schanke asked. His voice was deep and raspy, but understandable.

Just then, forensics arrived. The two officers who entered the hallway first stared open-mouthed as the victim's ghost materialized. "Help me," the ghost moaned.

"Who killed you?"

"Don't know. I was shot from behind. Which pack are you from?"

"Silver Talons," Schanke responded.

"I was in the Crimson Fangs. If you find my killer, my pack owes you a debt of honor. I was the shadow." Schanke looked dismayed as the ghost continued, "Tell Lucas he's in danger. Please."

"Who's Lucas?"

"Pack leader. Tell him."

"I will. You're sure you don't know who did this?"

"I smelled him, but he attacked me from behind. I never saw my killer. I know it was a man because of his voice; he threatened to kill Lucas also."

"What'd he smell like?" To a werewolf, the sense of smell was at least as powerful, if not more so, than sight. A person's scent was like a fingerprint. Not even identical twins smelled exactly the same. Werewolves could also detect whether a person was good or evil by their scent, and if they had any magical talent or not.

"Powerful magic, fire, rotten fish . . . like someone you don't want to meet. Find him before he kills Lucas or anyone else."

"I will," Schanke responded.

The ghost faded.

"Wow," Judy remarked shakily. "A real ghost."

Nick nodded. "Yeah. You okay?"

"Fine." She sighed. "I guess you won't want the house now that it's haunted."

Nick smiled. "Well, I do like it. But I don't think the ghost will be back. Right, Schanke?"

The werewolf looked distracted. "You're the expert. That's the first ghost I ever met. Hey, what's this?"

Don transformed into his normal human form and looked at the information on the computer for a few moments. "What are the names of the homeowners?"

"Lucas and Serena Forrester." Judy's eyes widened as she made the mental connection.

"Where are they?"

"Las Vegas, Nevada."

"Do you have the name of the hotel they are staying at?"

"Yes, back in my office."

One of the uniformed cops approached Nick hesitantly. "Captain Knight, you were the one who made the call?"

"Yes, I was."

"Can you tell me how you discovered the body?"

"Sure. I was looking at the house with a realtor and smelled something funny."

"Ah. Nice place, don't know if I'd want to live in a haunted house though. I heard something about a ghost."

"I don't think I'll have any trouble with him."

"All right."

After dealing with forensics, Nick and Schanke went back to the realtor's office and got the information they needed. Don agreed to make the phone call. By the time they arrived at the police station, it was just after 8:00 pm.

* * * * *

End of part 1

Wanderers of the Dark Part 2/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

Schanke sounded slightly annoyed as he spoke with a receptionist. "I am a police officer in Toronto. That's in Canada, not California. I need to speak to Lucas Forrester. It's very important. Not Lewis Foster, ma'am. Lucas Forrester. What do you mean, he and his family are gone but they never checked out? Uh huh. Oh. Okay, thanks." Don hung up and sighed. "Great. Just great."

"What's up?" Nick asked.

"The Forresters abandoned their hotel room two days ago. Nobody knows where they went. They might as well have disappeared off the face of the planet. I'm going to call in a few favors from my American friends. Maybe the cops there know something." Schanke flipped through his address book and grinned. Ralph Edwards owed him big time for his part in catching an American killer who'd jumped the border a few years back. Don picked up the phone and dialed.

At the police station in Las Vegas, Detective Ralph Edwards answered the phone. "Don Schanke! Hey, how's it going? I hear you were made Captain. And what's this about getting furry once a month?"

"Uh, more than once a month, actually. Listen, I need some help finding someone. This is going to sound kinda strange." Quickly, he explained the case and gave a physical description of the Forresters, based on Judy's recollection.

"Okay," Ralph said, scribbling the details on a notepad. "Which one of them's the werewolf?"

"Lucas."

"And you've never seen this guy yourself?"

"Nope."

"I'll get started on it."

"Keep me updated, will ya?"

"Sure. Take care."

"You bet."

Schanke hung up and let out a deep breath. "Well, he's going to look. Wish there was something more I could do besides keep my fingers crossed." Then a thought crossed his mind. Elliott, pack leader of the Silver Talons, might have connections in the States. Since the college student spent more time in the computer lab than in his dorm room, Don sent him an e-mail.

"Captain Knight, are you interested in signing up for the softball team?" A co-worker asked, stopping by.

Nick looked up and gave the lieutenant a grin but shook his head ruefully. "I can't, unless they're having the games at night now."

"Haven't you heard? That was one of the new changes. The games are on Sunday evenings starting at 8:00. They work out better for most people than Saturday afternoons."

"Really? Count me in, then." Nick wrote his name on the growing list.

"Thanks! Captain Schanke, would you be interested?"

"Sure. Wouldn't want to miss out."

The lieutenant grinned. "No, sir."

After the young man left, Nick turned to Schanke. "Got any ideas?"

"My first guess, and the most obvious, is a turf war. According to Judy, the Forresters have been living here for a year now. He is a leader of another pack and he may not have gotten permission to stay here. My second guess is someone else wanted to be the shadow and got ****ed off when he wasn't chosen. There is a third option, one that I don't like: werewolf hunters. That would explain the silver bullet. Do we know if the samples on the floor are from the victim or not?"

"I sent them over to forensics."

"Great." Schanke noticed Elliott had just sent him a reply and opened it. The e-mail read:

From elliottm@uoftoronto.on.ca

To dschanke@toronto.police.org

Re: Crimson fangs

The Forresters had the permission of our previous pack leader to stay in Toronto. I simply extended it. I don't know who would bear a grudge against them, or why. If the Shadow is dead, then Lucas should definitely be warned. I will contact the leader of the Black Claws down in Las Vegas immediately and let her know what's going on.

Elliott McBride

"There can be only one." -- Highlander

Schanke related the information in the e-mail to Nick. "There goes my first theory," the werewolf concluded. Nick nodded.

"What are you planning on doing the rest of the evening? I thought you were taking the night off to go house-hunting." "I was. An old friend is in town and we're going to meet. He's a former cop partner of mine. We go way back."

"How far?"

"Forty years or so."

"I'd love to meet this old friend of yours."

Knight looked thoughtful. "Now there's an idea." He picked up the phone and dialed Czajkowski's cell number, knowing that the American would be on his way. "John. Hi, it's me, Nick. Uh, there's been a slight change of plans." Briefly, Nick explained that he'd come to work, but could still take off, and would Czajkowski like to meet him at the police station instead?

"Hey, that sounds like a great idea," John replied.

"Where are you right now?" The vampire asked, then gave directions.

* * * * *

Natalie picked up a tape recorder. This latest case might prove to be interesting. The victim had been shot in the head from behind with a silver bullet. Don Schanke confirmed that the victim was indeed a werewolf. This would be Nat's first autopsy on a lycanthrope, and probably the first documented autopsy of its kind. She might as well have been opening Pandora's box.

She picked up her tape recorder. "Dr. Natalie Lambert, May 5th, 2000. 7:40 pm. The subject is male, approximately 30 years old, Caucasian with green eyes, blonde hair, and about six feet tall. Estimated weight of the subject is 200 pounds. The suspected cause of death is a bullet wound to the skull. Note that the bullet was silver and the subject may have had a severe silver allergy. The subject was afflicted with lycanthropy."

Natalie paused to pick up the scalpel. Suddenly it jumped out of her reach.

"What the . . ." She bent down to pick up the scalpel and it moved again. "This had better not be some sort of prank."

The scalpel hovered in the air as if indecisive and then clattered to the floor.

Nat shivered. She didn't believe in ghosts ordinarily, but both Schanke and Nick's stories of a ghost at the crime scene were the same. She'd thought they were pulling her chain until now. Natalie hesitated, then reached for the phone. "Knight," Nick answered.

"I know this is going to sound crazy," she began, "but I think that ghost is in my morgue."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"I don't think he'll hurt you, but we'll head on over, just to be safe. Czajkowski just got here."

"Who?"

"My partner from Chicago."

"He's here?"

"Yeah."

"Okay." Nat hung up.

Nick turned around. John Czajkowski was in his mid-sixties. He wore a flannel shirt and jeans. His brown hair had a few streaks of silver. Even though he had aged, Knight knew it was the same man. The vampire never forgot a face. "Hi," The American grinned. "Saw your interview on TV the other week. I see you haven't changed much since Chicago. Lost the accent, that's about it."

"Yeah. John, this is Don Schanke, the other captain of Paranormal Investigations. Without him, I'd be up to my fangs in paperwork."

"You'd be up to a lot more than that. Nice to meet you, Czajkowski. So Nick, what sort of accent did you have? Irish? English?"

"Scottish, actually," the American responded.

A twinkle appeared in Nick's eye as he stepped into his old personality with ease. "Oh, aye, that I do recall now. It's been awhile, lad. Y'know, I've had so many accents and so many names, it's a wonder I can keep them straight."

John chuckled. "Good thing you have a perfect memory."

"Yeah, but remembering everything is not all it's cracked up to be. It makes for sleepless days sometimes. Tracy's off tonight, or I'd introduce you to her. Schanke, you want to head over to the morgue? The ghost seemed more receptive to you last time."

"Sure," Don replied.

"Did you say ghost?" Czajkowski asked.

"Yes. It's a long story. I'll tell you on the way," Nick responded.

* * * * *

Natalie managed to pick up the scalpel. She had a death grip on it, as if it would somehow fly out of her hand. The tape recorder she'd placed on the silver metal table suddenly crackled to life. Nat jumped. She couldn't remember turning it off, but the button on the side was down.

"This isn't happening." She muttered. "This can't be happening."

"Nat?" Grace asked, entering the lab. Immediately noticing her friend's panicked look, she asked, "Are you all right?" "Tell me that tape recorder is off."

Grace took a few steps forward and looked. "Yep, it's off."

The machine crackled again. There was nothing but static. The white noise was more ominous and foreboding than a verbal threat. Then an eerie howl slashed through the hissing air. Nat shivered. "Schanke said the victim was a werewolf."

Grace had goose bumps on her arms as she glanced at the corpse on the autopsy table. "Figures. I've never seen a ghost before."

"Nick said he saw a ghost once, and I've seen one, but not like this."

"Mmm hmm." The howling had stopped and was replaced by total silence. "Do you think the ghost is trying to tell us something?" Grace asked.

"Nat? Are you all right?"

The sound of Nick's voice startled Natalie. He'd gotten there so fast, she wondered if he'd flown. Then she saw Schanke and an older man she didn't recognize. "Yes, I'm okay." Nat put on a smile which belied how she felt. "Just a little shaken up."

"Nat, this is John Czajkowski. I knew him when I was in Chicago back in the sixties. He got the unlucky job of being assigned to me when I was a rookie cop. John, this is Dr. Natalie Lambert."

"Nice to meet you, ma'am."

"Same here," she responded and shook his hand.

Czajkowski couldn't help noticing that her hand was shaking. He squeezed it gently, then let go and turned to Nick. "I wouldn't say unlucky."

"If it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have gotten shot," Nick said.

"Not necessarily. I certainly don't blame you. It's not like you pulled the trigger, after all."

"Yeah, but . . ."

"No buts." The American grinned.

Schanke raised a questioning eyebrow but didn't say anything.

"It's a long story," Nick said, then introduced John and Grace.

Natalie shivered. She had noticed the temperature drop and had thought it was the air conditioning, but now she wondered if the ghost was causing it. Suddenly another unearthly howl pierced the air.

"That howl sounded like a wolf, not a ghost," John observed.

"The dead guy was a werewolf," Don answered. "How much do you want to bet the ghost is his?" Schanke stepped closer to the body. The scent was tainted with the evil of the murderer, and of silver from the bullet. That particular metal had an distinctly odd tangy smell. "Hey, anyone there?"

Grace shrieked and the American's jaw dropped as a hazy figure materialized. Don recognized him as Lucas' Shadow.

"It's okay," Nat said, trying to calm her friend down. "I don't think he's going to hurt us."

* * * * *

End of part 2

Wanderers of the Dark Part 3/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

The ghost made a strange raspy sound. It took Schanke a moment to realize that he was chuckling.

"I couldn't hurt you folks if I wanted to," the ghost said with a hollow voice. "I've barely got enough ectoplasm to show myself. Captain Schanke, have you found Lucas yet?"

"Ah, no. He disappeared in Las Vegas."

"You must find him. Please. He and his family are not safe while my killer is still free."

"I will," Don replied. "I'll go after him myself if I have to. I promise."

Was it his imagination or did the ghost smile? He slowly raised a hand and faded. "Tell Lucas that Kris has the files."

"Sure."

Warmth returned quickly to the morgue as the ghost disappeared. The room was a sauna compared to the icebox from a minute ago. Grace gave an audible sigh of relief as everyone relaxed. "What files is he talking about?" Nick asked.

"I have no idea," Schanke answered. "But I suppose that's what the killer was after."

The vampire shrugged.

"Okay. I'll talk to Elliott, see if he knows anything about any files, and then we can get plane tickets. Your passport is good, right?"

"Yeah. You wouldn't believe what I had to go through to get a new one. I filled out more paperwork for that passport than a homicide," Knight answered.

Natalie grinned. "But it was worth the effort, right, Nick?"

"We'll see if the Americans let me into the U.S. They might just decide to detain me for the next hundred years. I hear politics over there are getting interesting."

John chuckled. "You shouldn't have much of a problem. Most people don't care one way or the other, since you guys mostly drink donated blood anyway. It's the right wing extremists who are trying to make a big deal about it, and the reporters are focusing on them right now. Not to mention that there is a Presidential election this year. But it's not a huge issue, that's for sure."

"Are you still taking the night off?" Schanke asked.

"Yeah, as much as I can," Nick responded.

"Okay. See you tomorrow."

"Wait, why don't you come with us?" Knight asked.

"Nah, I'd better make my phone calls," Schanke replied.

"You can do that from a cell phone," the vampire said.

"Yeah, okay. I'll book off."

"Well, Nick, have a good evening," Natalie said.

"Yeah. Wish you could come with us," he replied.

She smiled ruefully. "Thanks for the offer, but I've got work to do."

Nick and Nat kissed briefly. John raised an eyebrow. Grace smiled, happy that those two were finally getting together. You'd think they could move a little faster . . . but then, maybe not. Nat had told her that Nick was terribly afraid of hurting her, but she thought he had better control now that he'd gone back to drinking human blood - donated, of course.

Grace was having dreams about Natalie showing up to work deathly pale and wearing a scarf around her neck, with Nick hovering around her like a mother hen. Grace had not told her friend, partly because she thought Nat might actually want to come across.

Certainly, that thought must have occurred to Natalie as long as she'd known about vampires. How tempting would it be to know that if you wanted to, you could live forever? Sure, there was probably a downside besides the obvious things like sunlight and garlic. But was it bad enough to turn away from the temptation? Nick Knight obviously hadn't thought so. Grace held that notion to herself and wished the men a good evening.

* * * * *

Nick, Schanke and Czajkowski went to a nearby bar since the two mortals had already eaten supper. The look of recognition on the bartender's face turned into a wide grin. She was in her early twenties, tall, slim and dark-haired with a hint of Hispanic heritage.

"Well, I hope you boys are off duty."

"Oh, we are," Schanke assured her.

"Good. What can I get for you? Is it all on one bill?"

Nick nodded. "Yeah." He ordered blood wine. Many restaurants were catering to vampires now, staying open later at night and offering several different kinds of blood, or blood wine. Schanke and Czajkowski both got beer. "I'll be right back."

"This Natalie must be someone special," John remarked after the bartender left.

"Yes, she is." The sparkle in Knight's eye punctuated the statement.

"Ah ha, I knew it," Schanke declared. "You two have got to get together."

Nick looked slightly sheepish. "Uh, well, that's easier said that done."

"The whole time I was gone, you two never even . . ?"

"No."

"Not even once?" The disappointment on Schanke's face was clear. "Aw, man. I figured you'd have gotten her a ring by now, at least."

"If I were mortal, I'd have asked her to marry me months ago," Nick admitted.

Don's eyes widened. "Really?"

"Yeah."

"Why haven't you?"

Nick took a deep breath. "I'm a vampire."

Schanke chuckled. "Yeah. So?"

Looking even more sheepish, Knight continued, "Vampires have fangs for a reason, Schanke. You know why mortals and vampires don't mix? Because unless the vampire in question has a helluva lot of control, the mortal will end up dead."

"Oh. I knew that."

"Sure you did."

"Yeah." Schanke switched topics. "How about those Cubs, huh?"

They talked until closing time. Schanke and Czajkowski got along great. Don enjoyed hearing John's stories about Nick from back in the 1960's, and Knight's own side of the tales.

"Why didn't you go through police training to start out?" Don asked after Nick finished.

"I was over 700 years old, Schanke. I thought I'd figure things out as time went by. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough."

"Hey," John said, "I'm still in one piece. You obviously did something right." The American grinned.

Knight paid for the drinks. "Schanke, you need a ride home?"

Don shook his head. "Nope. I'm fine. Alcohol doesn't affect me like it used to."

"All right. I'll see you later."

Nick took John to the campground he was staying at. "I can't believe you're still driving this old boat, especially when you can afford pretty much anything." Czajkowski commented.

"Trunk space," Knight replied.

"Huh?"

"I'm a vampire, John. I need a place to hide from the sunlight if I get caught outside. This car has enough trunk space for an average-sized person to lay inside."

"Ah. Practical."

"Yep."

Nick dropped Czajkowski off and went back to Schanke's house, where he'd been staying since the loft burned down. It was still early in the evening. Don and Myra were watching an "I Dream of Jeannie" episode on videotape. Jenny was in her bedroom playing a computer game.

Every once in a while she exclaimed "yes!" and then there was the sound of a cow moo. Nick looked puzzled.

Don laughed. "Oh. That's her new game. There's a secret level she's been dying to play, where you get to fight cows."*

"That's supposed to be fun?"

"Yeah. It is. I've played it once already. The cows come after you with axes and they're actually hard to kill. It's a blast."

"Uh huh." But Nick went into Jenny's room. He had to see this game. Sure enough, there were cows on the computer screen coming after a character dressed in plate armor and carrying a blue sword. The name on the bottom of the screen was Nicholas. Jenny hit the pause key and swiveled around in her chair. "Nick! Anyone ever tell you that you're too good at sneaking up on people?"

He chuckled. "Oh, maybe once or twice. So what's this?"

"A computer game." She looked slightly embarrassed. "Um, I hope you don't mind I named my paladin after you."

"Hey, no problem." Nick grinned. "So, how do you play?"

"You left click on the bad guys to attack, or right click to use magic. I've already beaten the game once. Want to try?"

"I'm not very good at video games."

Jenny looked surprised. "They're really not that hard. Sure you don't wanna play?"

Nick shrugged. "Okay." He took the seat after she stood up.

Leaning over his shoulder, the girl watched. Nick really was not as bad as he claimed. He wiped out the cows in less than a few minutes using strategies she would have never thought of. Nick stayed up until the wee hours of the morning playing computer games and teaching Jenny a few tricks. Don came in at one point and watched. The next day was Saturday, so it was all right for the girl to sleep in.

It was mid-afternoon when Knight awoke. He went upstairs and found Schanke at his work-issued laptop doing e-mail.

"Hey, partner." Schanke grinned. "Elliott says Kris is the Black Claws' pack leader, which answers several questions. When we get to Las Vegas, she'll meet us at the airport. We've got department-issued tickets. Ralph called and said he couldn't find out much except that there is someone assigned to the case already, a guy named Smith."

"Oh. What time does the plane leave?"

"Tonight at 1:00 am," Schanke replied.

"Great." Nick wondered how much of a pain it would be to get his liquid food cleared with customs. He'd gotten an updated passport recently. That wouldn't be a problem, but bringing a case of blood packs might be. The vampire resigned himself to spending the next hour or so on the phone.

* * * * *

"Yes, my name is Lisa, can I help you?" A customer service representative said in a very nasal tone.

"Hi. Uh, I'm on a flight leaving at 1:00 am tomorrow. I'm going to need to bring some unusual baggage on board, and I don't want any hassle."

"Okay. What were you planning to bring?"

"My lunch."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm a vampire. I'm planning to bring a box containing several packs of donated blood. Otherwise, I'm not going to have anything to eat once I get to my destination."

"Oh. Did you want to check this in as luggage or carry it on?"

"It needs to be kept cold, so I'll probably check it in as luggage."

"That shouldn't be a problem. Are you taking a domestic or international flight?"

"International. I'm going to Las Vegas."

"Okay. Um, are you aware that the airplane will be landing shortly after sunrise?"

"Yes. That's not a problem for me."

"Good. All right, what's your ticket number?"

"421701E1228."

"Nick Knight?"

"Yes."

"Wow. Okay, you're all set to go. Just make sure you fill out the baggage ticket when you get it."

"That's it? I don't have to call anyone else?"

"Nope."

"Great. Thanks."

* * * * *

End of part 3

Wanderers of the Dark Part 4/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

The flight wasn't as bad as Nick thought it would be. Knight kept a thermos filled with the last of his cow supply in his carry-on bag. He'd arranged to have several bottles sent to the hotel. The stewardess who was checking tickets asked Nick if he was a frequent flyer, and if he'd like to enroll in the free miles program.

"I suppose you could say I'm a frequent flyer," the vampire replied with a chuckle. "But I don't use airplanes very much." Behind him, Schanke laughed.

The stewardess smiled as she recognized him. "No, I suppose not. Have a nice flight."

The in-flight movie was *Toy Story.* Nick thought it was interesting how much movies had changed over the years. Schanke fell asleep five minutes after it started. When they touched down in Las Vegas, the sun was just beginning to come up. Some of the passengers glanced at Nick, wondering what effect the sun would have on him.

"Hope you brought plenty of sun block," one man in the next row remarked, much to the amusement of the other passengers.

"Oh, I'll be fine," Nick answered.

When they landed, Kris was there waiting. Schanke sensed her immediately. She was a tall woman with long blonde hair and pale blue eyes. She couldn't have been more than 25, yet there was an aura of power about her that demanded respect. Kris wore black jeans and a solid red T-shirt. Around her neck was a claw-shaped pendant carved out of obsidian on a silver necklace. Nick sensed a faint buzz of magic from it. The pendant was probably a talisman.

"Hello. You must be Captain Schanke. I'm Kristin Starr, but everyone calls me Kris. Welcome to Las Vegas."

"Thanks."

They shook hands. She turned and gave Nick a cool scrutinizing gaze. Elliott had warned her about Schanke's vampire partner, but he hadn't mentioned who it was. She recognized him instantly. His picture had been plastered all over the news magazines and papers for quite a few days. Nick Knight had the scent of age, power, and compassion. The last surprised her. She'd run across other vampires who were far from benevolent. "You must be Captain Knight. Or is it de Brabant?"

"Knight. And it's nice to meet you."

"Same here. I hope your flight was good?"

"Better than expected."

"Good. I have a van waiting. The hotel is ten miles from here."

It took them a few minutes to get their baggage and a few more minutes to go through customs. The customs agent glanced down at the box Nick was carrying and flipped through his list. The man's eyes grew wide with sudden recognition. "You're Nick Knight?"

"No, I'm his evil twin," the vampire replied in an uncharacteristically flippant manner. Then he said more calmly, "Yes, that's me."

"Ah. That explains the odd cargo. Hope you enjoy your stay."

"Thanks," Nick answered.

The drive to the hotel was long, due to morning rush hour. Schanke sat next to Kris in the front seat and Nick was in the back of the van. "I'm curious," the pack leader of the Black Claws said. "What made you decide to stay on as a cop?"

"Being a cop is my life, Kris. I couldn't imagine doing anything else."

"You wouldn't try something different a hundred years down the road?"

Schanke laughed. "I'd be lucky to live another fifty years."

His pack leader hadn't told him? It was inconceivable. She was going to have a long chat with Elliott later. "Captain Schanke, you might find this a bit hard to believe, but I'm eighty-three years old."

"What? No way. You're pulling my leg."

Kris shook her head. "I was born in 1917 in a farmhouse in rural Minnesota. I helped my parents on the farm for sixteen years. Then I moved to Duluth to find a job. Then the Great Depression hit. One night, a gang of teenage boys attacked me. They were desperate for money and nearly killed me. I would have died if Jeremy hadn't found me. He was from California and invited me to join his pack. I did." She smiled. "You could live at least two centuries or more if you're lucky. I sense great power in you."

Don's heart soared at the news, then came crashing down. How was he going to tell Myra and Jenny that he would likely outlive his grandchildren? He could count on Nick's reaction, but not theirs. Well, he'd call from the hotel later and worry about it then. Schanke knocked on the rear of the van. "Hear that, Knight? I'm gonna be around for a while."

"Yeah, I heard."

Schanke told Kris about talking to the ghost and asked about the files.

"When he came here, Lucas gave me a file containing information about every werewolf pack in Toronto. It includes the names of the pack leaders and their shadows and contact information, and also certain other details about them. This is different from the standard contact file all pack leaders have. It sounds like that's what Sam was looking at over at Lucas' place."

"Is the file something that someone could have been killed for having?"

Kris sighed. "Any of the pack leaders outside of our alliance might want it, especially the Rogues."

The van pulled into the hotel's underground parking lot. There was an elevator that would take them straight to the check-in desk. Nick assured Kris that he could tolerate the sun for those few minutes, and she wished them both luck on finding the Forresters. She wrote down her phone number and gave it to Schanke.

* * * * *

Schanke's phone call to Myra didn't wake Nick, who was sleeping like a rock. Don felt a bit guilty about not telling her about his longevity right away. He'd tell her the next time they spoke. Schanke drifted off to sleep, glad that Knight didn't snore.

Nick awoke an hour before sunset. His partner was still asleep. The vampire drained two packs of blood and put the empty plastic bags back in the cooler. No sense leaving them around for a maid to find them. Even though the world knew the truth about vampires now, Knight didn't want to be any more obvious than he already was.

Don sat up and stretched just as Nick closed the cooler. "I could go for munchies," Schanke said and glanced over at the room service card on the nightstand. "Pizza sounds good."

"Just tell them to hold the garlic."

"Right." Schanke picked up the phone and ordered. "Have you had your dinner?"

"Yeah," Nick responded. "I'm going to start questioning the hotel staff. Let me know if anything comes up."

"Right."

The vampire started with the receptionist, who told him what room the Forresters had been staying in. It was currently vacant, so he could investigate anytime. They were holding it in case the Forresters turned up; the room was registered for the rest of the week. The local police were also looking into the disappearance. Then, much to Nick's annoyance, the receptionist asked if he needed any sun block.

"No, thank you. I'm fine. Really."

"If you need any, it's available in the gift shop."

"Thanks." Nick sighed. This was going to be a long trip if everyone recognized him. "Who was the last person to clean the Forrester's room?"

"I don't know. You want to talk to the cleaning staff manager?"

"Not right now. Maybe later."

"Okay."

"I really should have brought a disguise," Knight muttered to himself as he walked back to the elevator.

Schanke's pizza had already arrived and he was digging into it. Nick flopped down on the bed, picked up the remote, and flipped through the TV channels.

"And in national news," a reporter said, "right wing activists marched today in front of Capitol Hill in protest of new legislation that creates a statute of limitations on murder for the first time - 70 years. The legislation is aimed at preventing discrimination against vampires who have reformed and who may already be employed in public service, but it applies to mortals also."

There was a brief clip of the protesters, and then the reporter continued, "Among the countries that have recently enacted such legislation, Canada has the shortest limit - only 50 years. England has the longest at 100 years, theoretically applicable to mortals also. In the US and Canada, there has been an exception made for vampires younger than a century old, since most of them were forced by their sire to kill at least once as part of their training. Currently, there are no extradition agreements."

Schanke looked up from his pizza and gave Nick an odd look. "You guys really did that?"

"It was part of the Code. I certainly didn't enjoy it."

"LaCroix did that to you, I take it?"

"Yeah." Knight winced at the painful memories. "I'd rather not talk about it."

"Can't say I blame ya. What'd you find out? Anything?"

"I found out which room the Forresters stayed in, and the local police are looking into the disappearance already. What do you say we check out the room and then take a trip to the station?"

"Sounds good to me."

Nick sniffed the pizza. "You know, they actually held the garlic. I'm amazed."

Schanke chuckled. "Yeah."

* * * * *

Don sneezed as he entered the Forrester's room. The scent of ashes, blood, and sulfur meant a dragon had been here. This particular dragon was not as powerful as the others he'd met recently, but he'd learned it was always best to be cautious when dealing with them. Then the other smell hit him. Not one, but three werewolves had been here, and one was more powerful than the other two. Remembering the scent from the Forrester's home, Schanke pegged the stronger as the pack leader.

"Gesundheit," Nick said.

"Thanks."

"What do you smell?"

"A dragon and three werewolves. The dragon's nowhere near as tough as Hei Long. One had to be Forrester. The other two must be from around here."

"Anything else?"

Schanke sniffed again. "Fast food, hair spray, and a dirty diaper. Phew, that stinks. What do you say we go pay the Las Vegas police a visit? I don't think we're going to find anything else here."

"Sounds like a plan," Nick replied.

* * * * *

Lt. Monroe glanced up from his computer screen as two guys walked in. They both looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place them. One was tall and blonde; the other was shorter with dark hair and a thinning hairline. "Can I help you?" The lieutenant asked.

Don displayed his badge. "Captain Schanke, Toronto police. This is Captain Knight. We're investigating the disappearance of several Canadian citizens who were staying at a hotel in town, with the last name of Forrester. Could you point us in the direction of whoever is handling the case?"

"Yeah." Monroe keyed in a few commands. "That would be Detective Smith. Let me give him a buzz." After the young officer spoke briefly with the detective, he gave the two Canadians a more scrutinizing gaze. "Hey, I recognize you guys now. You're doing the X-Files, right?"

"Paranormal investigations," Nick corrected him.

"What's the difference? You should talk to Captain Roberts. He wants to start up a department like that here. He keeps talking about it, but hasn't done anything yet."

Knight and Schanke exchanged glances. "Really?" Don asked.

"Yeah."

"We'll see."

The sudden over-powering scent of dragon assaulted Schanke's nostrils, and he sneezed.

"Gesundheit," Nick said. "Are you allergic to something around here?"

"Yeah. You."

"Funny," the vampire responded. He recalled Schanke sneezing at the hotel, specifically in the Forrester's room. Something out of the ordinary must be causing it. Quite possibly, his partner had a good reason for not wanting to go into detail.

Detective Smith was an unassuming man who appeared to be in his early thirties. He had dark brown hair. His eyes were a shade that bordered between deep blue and violet. He was dressed casually in jeans and a solid black T-shirt, and wore his department ID on a plastic chain around his neck. "Hi. What can I do for you?"

Nick introduced himself and Schanke. He added, "We were wondering if you could give us any information you might have uncovered in your investigation."

"Sure. Come with me back to my desk and I'll show you the file."

* * * * *

End of part 4

Wanderers of the Dark Part 5/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

Schanke and Knight followed Detective Smith. It was busy but not hectic, about what you'd expect at a police station on a Monday night. Smith sat down and flipped through a stack of files until he found the one he wanted.

"This is it. Not much here. I just started the investigation two days ago and haven't found any leads." The corners of his lips turned upward into a slight grin. "Though I suspect you two might know more about this case than me."

"We know a little," Schanke confirmed. "But we were hoping you might be able to fill in some of the holes."

"Okay. What do you know?" Detective Smith asked.

Nick started at the beginning and told him about finding a body in the Forresters' house. Then Schanke mentioned the ghost. Smith was more enthusiastic then skeptical.

"You talked to a ghost? Do you know how rare that is?"

Don shook his head.

"The ability to sense ghosts is more common then you think, but they won't appear to anyone who doesn't have a certain degree of inherent power. It's sort of magnetic, I think. It takes a lot of magic to draw them to this plane, no matter how vital their unfinished business is."

"The ghost was a werewolf in life."

"Anyone with innate magic will have more substance as a ghost than an ordinary person, but it still takes power to draw them out."

Nick gave Schanke an astonished look. "So an ordinary mortal couldn't just talk to a ghost?" The vampire asked.

"Most mortals can sense the presence of ghosts, whether they know it or not. Actually communicating with one is quite a feat. I assume you both already know I'm not what I appear to be?"

The question was not completely unexpected. "We've run across your kind before," Schanke said.

The pieces suddenly clicked together for Nick. He hadn't recognized Smith was actually a dragon until now. That must have been what made the werewolf sneeze. Knight wondered if Schanke was allergic to dragons.

"Yes. I've heard you defeated Hei Long," Smith replied.

Schanke grinned. "Yeah, that was me. But I couldn't have done it without Nick and Excalibur."

The detective nodded. "All right. As I said, you may look over the file, though you will most likely not learn anything new."

"Thanks," Don replied.

The file had more background information. Lucas Forrester had vanished from a casino. Soon afterward, his wife and child disappeared from the hotel room. Only a few casino employees were interviewed. None of them saw anything. Not all of the potential witnesses had been contacted yet.

Scanning the file, Nick almost missed the dark shadow in the corner of one of the crime scene photos. "Schank, do you see that?"

"What?" Don leaned closer.

"That shadow. It looks out of place, don't you think?"

The werewolf stared at the picture. "It looks like a normal shadow to me," he said finally.

"Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but I don't think it looks right," Nick replied.

"Okay. Let's say you're correct. What could it be?"

"I don't know."

Smith also leaned closer. "The meaning might be found in some old tales. There is a legend of a mysterious assassin who could move through the shadows and thus enter secure places completely undetected. These were thought to be stories told to frighten the children of the rich and powerful during the French Revolution, but perhaps there is some truth in them."

Nick's thoughts drifted back in time.

* * * * *

Janette and Nick stood in a dark hallway in a castle. Flames burned in sconces at the halfway point on both sides of the wall. "The servants are nervous," Nick said.

Janette raised an eyebrow. "They are peasants, Nicolah. Who cares how they feel? Hmm?"

"There have been many murders of noble folk lately at the hands of revolutionaries, several more mysterious than others."

"It was probably one of us taking advantage of the current situation."

"No, there was no loss of blood. Do you know what the servants say? There is a man who can walk through shadows and thus get through fortresses undetected, as if by magic. They say he is a warlock."

Janette laughed. "A true warlock would not be so bold as to reveal himself. These are dangerous times for anyone with power, monetary or otherwise."

Nick nodded. "An interesting rumor, though, don't you think? All rumors start with a grain of truth."

"Oui, a very small grain." Janette sighed. "The moon is nearly risen, Nicolah. Look, it is very like a gem, is it not?"

An eerie howl pierced the night. The two vampires exchanged glances.

"I thought all the wolves had been driven away by the king's men," Janette remarked.

"Apparently not. Come, Janette, the feast is about to start. They will miss us if we are not there." Nick put his arm around her, and they went down the corridor.

* * * * *

"Can we take a look at the hair samples that were found?" Schanke asked, bringing Nick back to reality.

"Sure."

Smith led them to the lab. There was only one technician in the room, an Asian woman in her mid twenties. She glanced up from her microscope. "Hey, Detective. How's it going?"

"Fine. Ann, this is Captain Schanke and Captain Knight from the Toronto police. Ann Lee is our main technician here."

"Nice to meet you. What can I do for you?"

"We need to look at some hair samples that were taken from a crime scene," Nick said.

"Sure. Which one?" Ann inquired.

"The Forresters' disappearance," Smith replied.

The lab technician pulled out a few slides from a drawer. "This is it. I strongly suspect these samples came from a werewolf. The DNA has canine properties as well as human."

Schanke held one of the slides up to the light. He thought the hair was identical to the samples he'd seen at the Forresters' home, but he wasn't sure. "It looks the same as the other samples we have, but I can't tell for certain without smelling it. Do you mind?"

"Is your sense of smell that good?"

"Yes."

Ann nodded. "Then go ahead."

Schanke uncovered the sample and took a whiff. "Definitely the same guy who was in the Forresters' place."

"You're sure?" Nick asked.

"Positive."

"I think it's time to talk to Kris again."

"Yeah," Schanke agreed. "Thanks for all your help," he said to Smith.

"No problem. Thank you."

Ann smiled. "Well, I have to say meeting both of you was interesting. My ten year-old nephew saw you two on TV, and now all he talks about is wanting to be a cop when he grows up."

Don grinned. "Really?"

"Yes. It's good that he finally has some positive role models. There's not too many anymore, you know. Will you do me a favor?"

She took an international news magazine out of her desk. There was a normal photograph of Nick and Schanke on the cover, interposed with one of Schanke as a werewolf and Nick with vampire fangs. The headline read: Canadian Cops Take a Bite out of Crime.

Knight burst out laughing. "I haven't seen that one."

"Can you sign it for me? My nephew would love that."

"Sure," Schanke said, slightly embarrassed but happy to be asked. Usually it was just Nick who got the recognition. "What's your nephew's name?" "Jimmy."

Don thought a moment and then wrote: Good luck, Jimmy. Follow your dreams wherever they take you. He signed it Capt. Don Schanke.

Nick had a harder time trying to think of something. Finally, he wrote: Doing the right thing isn't always easy, but it's what counts in the end. Best of wishes, Nick Knight.

"Thank you so much," Ann said.

"Sure," Schanke replied.

"No problem," Nick added.

Detective Smith escorted them to the front desk and produced a pair of business cards. "Call me if anything comes up, or if you have any questions."

"Sure thing," Don replied. "Say, does anyone here know about you?"

"No. I'd like to keep it that way for as long as possible. I have no desire or need for publicity."

Nick nodded, knowing how difficult it was to be in the public eye. The media hype was quickly growing tiresome. "That's understandable."

"Good."

* * * * *

Lucas Forrester closed his eyes. The scent of his wife and 10-month-old son lingered in the air. He knew they were nearby, but the silver handcuffs kept him from leaving the room. Though he was not terribly allergic to silver, the metal did drain his strength. He was tall with thick wavy black hair and green eyes. As a werewolf, Lucas was more muscular than most mortals would have been. His captors had literally stripped him, not wanting to miss any potential weapons. In the end, they'd returned his clothes, but had kept his watch, so he had no idea what the time of day was.

His blindfold had been removed when they'd handcuffed him to the chair. At least, he could see that he was in a bare room. There was no window. Only the wooden chair he sat on, a bookshelf, and a door occupied the chamber. The bookshelf was nearly empty, save for several thick leather-bound books with obscure occult titles. If one of them had a magical verse that would allow him to escape, he could not reach it. Not that Lucas knew much about the occult. He was an accountant by profession. His hobbies were reading and playing computer games, which he didn't have much time for anymore. Leading a werewolf pack and being a father took up most of his spare time.

Lucas still didn't know why he'd been captured. He suspected that it might have something to do with the files his Shadow was supposed to have given to Kristin Starre. If his captors had also kidnapped Sam, then the files were in the wrong hands. That was not something he wanted to think about.

Escape was his only way out, but first the shackles had to be removed. Then he could find his wife and son. Revenge would come once his family was safe. Whoever had done this would face the wrath of the Crimson Claws.

* * * * *

Nick and Schanke entered the Silver Moon casino. A large neon sign of a wolf howling at the full moon decorated the entrance. The place was busy but not packed. Don Schanke caught the mixed scent of dragons, werewolves, vampires and mortals. Ordinary scents of perfume, alcohol, and cologne mingled with the fragrances of emotions like excitement and greed. As a werewolf, Don was used to the normal variety of smells in public places, but the casino was a bubbling cauldron of aromas. He caught the scent of fear and hostility, faded with the passage of a few days. Then he smelled Forrester and knew with certainty that at least some threads of the mystery would be unraveled here.

Schanke caught a whiff of dragon and sneezed. Knight looked amused. An attractive woman with long red hair came around the corner just then. She wore a professional-looking black skirt, suit jacket, and a red blouse. By her side was a handsome young man, but he was human. Don's eyes widened as he realized the lady was the dragon. Quickly, he stepped out of the way.

"Bless you," the woman said, her green eyes twinkling with amusement.

"Thanks," the werewolf muttered, looking embarrassed.

"Do all of us make you sneeze?"

Don's face turned bright red as he sneezed again.

Nick couldn't keep from laughing any longer. "I think he's just allergic to work," the vampire replied.

Schanke noticed the change immediately as the dragon masked her scent.

"Is that better?" She inquired.

"Much."

* * * * *

End of part 5

Wanderers of the Dark Part 6/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

"Is there anything else I can do for you gentlemen?"

"Maybe," Nick responded. "We're searching for a man, a Canadian citizen, who was abducted from this casino."

"Human?"

"Werewolf," Schanke answered.

"I do recall seeing one here. He had a slight accent that sounded almost European. He frequently visited the blackjack table. One night, two other werewolves came in. He had a few drinks at the bar with them. They argued and left the building."

"What was the argument about?"

"They did not discuss any specific details, but I gathered it was about some sort of computer file."

"Do you know which pack they were from?"

"There is only one pack in this town, the Black Claws."

Nick and Schanke exchanged glances.

"Thanks for your help," Knight said.

"Anytime," the dragon replied. She handed him a business card. "I am the owner of this casino. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to call me."

"Mind if we look around?" Schanke asked.

"Be my guest."

Don literally followed his nose to the scent of fear that had first caught his attention. He found himself standing in front of the bar. Nick caught up to him. The vampire gave him a curious look.

"Lucas Forrester was right here," Schanke said in a low voice. "Maybe the bartender saw something."

Nick nodded.

The bartender was a young man with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He glanced up at them. "Can I get you gentlemen something to drink?"

"Actually, we were hoping you could answer some questions," Knight replied.

"Great. Cops. Look, guys, I just started working here."

"When did you start?" Nick asked.

"Two nights ago."

"Is there another bartender who works nights?" Don asked.

"Not since the other guy quit."

Knight and Schanke looked at each other.

"You wouldn't happen to know where we can find him?"

"No, sorry. Wish I could help you."

"Thanks anyway," Nick replied.

Schanke grabbed a few pretzels. "Yeah, thanks," he muttered.

Looking around, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first glance. But then he noticed a shadow that stuck out from all the other shadows, near the main entrance. Don stood up and walked over. Nick followed. The vampire sensed a faint tingle of magic, but couldn't tell where it was coming from.

Schanke took a step toward the shadow. Goose bumps rose along his arms. He smelled power, magic and other werewolves. Then he caught the faint scent of fire and rotten fish. It had faded over the past few days, but there was no doubt in Don's mind that he had found the trail of the killer. He stepped into the shadow and felt a rush of adrenaline as the power filled his body. Nick saw him disappear completely. The vampire's jaw dropped, but then he recovered and attempted to step through the shadow. He bumped into the wall instead.

"Schanke, I hope you know what you're doing," Knight said under his breath.

The sight of his partner disappearing into the shadow reminded Nick of a man with the same ability he had met years ago.

* * * * *

There was a stranger at the table, a tall man with black hair and green eyes. He appeared ordinary, yet Nicholas felt there was nothing ordinary about him. The vampire had never sensed anything like this before. Truth evaded him like a shadow, impossible to grasp.

"I am Victor Romanov," the man introduced himself. "And I am honored to be here, milord."

There was something behind the man's words, a chill that was hidden by a false smile and politeness. "The honor is mine," Nicholas replied. "You are Russian? What brings you here?"

"I am visiting relatives, milord."

"Ah. And how do you like it here so far? The weather is a bit cold for the season."

"Cold does not bother me. I am used to it. In fact, I find that this land is very much like home. Oh, the language and the customs are different, but the people are very much the same. Hard working peasants, good and noble lords and ladies, blustering politicians . . . yes, it is very much like home."

"I think politicians are much the same wherever you go."

"You are probably right," Romanov replied.

"Enjoy your stay."

"Thank you. I shall."

Later that evening, after the feast, Nicholas was on his way back to his chamber when he saw something very strange. One of the shadows shifted out of place, writhing like a serpent. Remembering the servants' story, Nicholas stepped back from the shadow. Displaying sharp fangs and golden eyes, the vampire braced himself for an attack. Suddenly, he felt a cold hand on his shoulder.

"Janette!"

"Oh, Nicolah!"

"I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting you."

"I hope not. Who were you expecting?"

The shadow was normal again as Nicholas glanced back. "Uh, no one at all."

"Truly, Nicolah, you are a horrible liar. You need something to take your mind off that ghost story. I just happen to have an idea." Janette put her arm around his shoulders and kissed him, letting her fangs show slightly. "Now, shall we go?"

"All right."

He kissed her. They went into a nearby bedroom and shut the door.

* * * * *

Don felt a rush of adrenaline as magic enveloped him. Then he suddenly found himself in a strange place, an alternate version of reality where everything was black and white but no color existed. Shadows stuck out most of all. Pitch black contrasted with soft shades of gray. The scene was right out of a 1950's television set. Schanke saw Nick bump into the wall, then rub his forehead. The vampire looked annoyed and muttered something. Apparently, sound was muted as well as color. Schanke walked into a nearby shadow and suddenly appeared behind Nick.

"Man, that was weird!" The werewolf exclaimed.

The vampire whirled around and looked very surprised. "What happened?"

"I was in the Twilight Zone, that's for sure." Don took a deep breath. "Everything went all gray. I could see you, but I couldn't hear you. Then suddenly everything went back to normal."

Nick nodded, still amazed that his partner could do such a thing. "Try walking into another shadow and see if it happens again."

"I'll give it a shot." Don stood in an ordinary shadow. He felt a slight tingle of magic, like a gravitational force pulling him in. He mentally shook off the effect. Why hadn't he sensed the magic until now? Was it something you had to be aware of for it to happen? If Schanke hadn't learned about the shadow walking assassin from the dragon cop, would he have discovered the magic eventually? "Whoever went into that shadow must have made it magical somehow. Maybe it only affects werewolves. I'm kinda new at this stuff, so it's hard to say."

Nick shrugged. "Anything's possible. Perhaps we should let Ms. Clark know about it."

"Sure."

The two captains found the casino owner's office. The door had a gold nameplate that read Ms. Lisa Clark. Nick knocked several times.

"One moment, please," Ms. Clark replied. A few moments later, the door opened as if entirely of its own accord. In human form, the dragon sat behind an ornate mahogany desk in a black leather chair. She smiled as Nick and Schanke walked in. "Gentlemen, what can I do for you?"

"This might sound a little strange, but we discovered a means by which someone could easily gain entry to your establishment through the use of magic. Downstairs, near the bar, there is an enchanted shadow," Nick explained.

"I see. Please, continue."

Schanke and Knight exchanged glances. Nick went on, "It has recently come to our attention that certain individuals possess the ability to magically transport themselves through shadows and thus enter places undetected."

"Some werewolves have this talent, but it is extremely rare," the female dragon replied. "You are saying that one of them entered the casino in this way?"

Knight nodded.

"I would like to see this shadow for myself. Could you show me where it is?"

"Gladly."

The three of them returned to the bar. Schanke pointed out the shadow. "I, uh, just happened to notice it."

Ms. Clark fixed him with a curious gaze. "Did it lead anywhere particular? Some shadows can be direct points of transportation."

"No."

"All right." The casino owner mumbled a few words in an obscure language and waved her hand in a pattern. "There. Now it is warded. No one will be able to enter without my knowledge. If you choose to step into this shadow or any other, Mr. Schanke, be careful. Magic can be unpredictable sometimes. One can learn to control it, but the learning takes much time and effort."

"Thanks for the advice, ma'am."

She nodded. "I have business to attend to. Good evening and good luck."

When the casino owner was out of earshot, Schanke said to Nick, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

"You want to head back to the Forresters' room."

"Yeah."

Knight nodded in agreement. "Let's go."

* * * * *

Nick and Schanke went back to the hotel. The Forresters' room was just as they had left it. Schanke found the shadow quickly, now that he knew what to look for. The question was, where did the shadow lead?

"Cross your fingers," Don said and moved forward.

* * * * *

End of part 6

Wanderers of the Dark Part 7/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

Once again, Nick was reminded of the strange Victor Romanov.

* * * * *

Nicholas left Janette sleeping soundly. Despite her intentions, he had not forgotten the peasants' story, nor the strange shadow. The blonde vampire had his own suspicions about who the mysterious shadow walker was. He greeted a maid cheerfully. It was very early in the morning, but the servants were already up.

"Good evening, milord," she replied.

"Have you seen anything out of the ordinary tonight?"

"No, milord. However, I was talking to Marie earlier, and she said that Monsieur Romanov was out wandering about last night, skulking like a Rogue around the castle. To be awake at such an hour is odd. Lurking in the shadows like a common thief is even stranger, milord."

"Thank you, Anna."

The maid curtsied.

Nicholas found Victor Romanov in his chamber eating breakfast. The Russian looked up. "Good morning to you."

The vampire nodded. "Good morning," he said stiffly.

Romanov wiped his mouth. "Is something wrong?"

Nicholas was blunt. "I do not appreciate the use of black magic in my home."

The Russian looked surprised and then chuckled. "Black magic? Milord, you must be joking. Such arts are not to be dabbled in."

"Then explain what you were doing last night."

"Ah. You noticed my presence? I'm impressed. Most of your kind wouldn't have."

Nicholas blinked in astonishment. "What do you mean, my kind?"

"Oh, come now. I know you are not what you pretend to be. And don't try to hypnotize me, it won't work. I am immune to your tricks."

"Why are you here?" The vampire still couldn't understand why he felt so much power from this particular mortal. It was like Romanov wasn't truly human. Nicholas recalled legends of men who could transform into wolves, gaining incredible strength and mysterious powers. Maybe this Russian was one of them. "You are the assassin they speak of."

"Perhaps."

"You are murdering innocents."

"Ha! Those self-righteous, fat, pompous nobles? They are guilty of murder because they tax their people to the point of starvation. They are guilty of rape and theft. How can you call them innocent? It is long past time that things changed."

Nicholas couldn't help but agree. He'd seen the effects of the system himself. Though he treated the peasants on his land less harshly than others would, most were not so lucky. "Still, resorting to murder is a bit harsh, don't you think?"

"Not for the pain and trouble the nobles have caused us. It is their due."

The vampire nodded. Romanov's point of view was understandable, especially to someone who had used that very justification to kill for his own survival. Did shape-shifters need to drink blood too? Did they constantly struggle against their own inner beasts? Yes, he could understand it. But could he condone it? No, Nicholas thought, knowing that he was a hypocrite for thinking so.

"I will be departing shortly. I must be in Paris by tomorrow night."

"Are you on a mission?"

"We are both wanderers of the dark, Monsieur de Brabant. That is your true name, is it not?"

"Yes," he admitted.

"My mission is one of survival, just as yours is. I am willing to venture deep into the darkness to fulfill that mission. How far are you willing to go in order to fulfill yours?" At Nicholas' silence, Romanov continued, "I am grateful for your hospitality. Should we meet again, I will remember you."

Nicholas nodded. "Safe journey." His polite words belied the sudden coldness he felt toward Romanov. The vampire would not forget the assassin either.

* * * * *

Schanke did not find himself in the strange otherworldly place, but instead was surrounded by darkness. He had the sensation of floating in space. Suddenly, he felt pulled by a mysterious force and then, a heartbeat later, something soft brushed across his forehead. A thin sliver of light shone out from under the door beside him. After listening carefully for a few moments, he discerned there was only one individual in the other room. Because of that person's labored breathing, Don suspected he was not a threat. Taking a deep breath, Schanke opened the door.

Lucas started at the sound, but couldn't do much more than crane his neck around. The werewolf who just came out of the closet appeared middle-aged and looked like he'd recently lost a lot of weight. He seemed vaguely familiar, but Forrester couldn't place him. He smelled of power normally associated with age, yet Lucas sensed the newcomer was probably as old as he looked. As Schanke approached cautiously, Forrester caught the mixed scent of vampires and dragons, all strong enough smells to be recent.

"It's all right. I'm a cop - Captain Don Schanke, Toronto PD."

Lucas let out a breath. He recognized the name. Someone who had slain a dragon and lived to tell about it was not to be treated disrespectfully. Not to mention the aura of power around him was nearly blinding to anyone who could see it. That was one of Forresters' gifts. "Great. You know they have my wife and son?"

"Yeah." Don bent down to examine the handcuffs. "Are those silver?"

"Yes," Forrester confirmed. "I don't suppose you can do anything about them?"

Schanke produced the key every cop carried with their department-issued set of handcuffs. The key worked with most types of cuffs, but not all. Luckily, these were the right sort. "Oh, I might be able to. Hold still."

Lucas complied. Being careful not to touch the actual handcuffs, Don unlocked them. They popped open with a click. The pack leader took them off, stood up and rubbed his sore, reddened wrists. "Thanks. Let's get out of here and find Serena and Joey. I've heard at least four different voices outside my door. One of those guys can shadow-walk, so he's probably strong."

"I think we should go back for Nick," Schanke said. "There has to be some way to bring him through the shadow. Then we wouldn't be so badly outnumbered."

"According to legend, a vampire can temporarily gain a werewolf's abilities, but it hasn't been tried in so long that no one is exactly certain what will happen. The stories say that a vampire gains much strength and power. The vampires I know are not trustworthy enough to grant this gift to. They would use it for slaughter, or for their own ends. How far do you trust Nick Knight?"

"I trust him with my life, Forrester. Even when I was a normal human and suspected he was a vampire, I still trusted him. There was never any question about it. We both watch each other's back and that's it."

Lucas nodded. "I don't have the ability to shadow-walk, so it would have to be your blood he drinks."

Schanke shrugged. "I'm willing to try anything."

"Okay. I'll wait here."

Nick was sitting at the bar but not drinking anything, since he was technically on duty. The bartender nearly dropped the glass he was wiping when Schanke appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.

"Did you find anything?" Nick asked.

"Yeah. You gotta come back with me."

"How? I thought you said the shadow stuff didn't work on me."

"Well, uh, there's one way I can think of to make it work, but you're probably not going to like it."

"I'm listening."

Schanke took a deep breath. "Lucas said if you take my blood, just a little, you could possibly gain that ability for a short time. He said it hasn't been done in so long that no one really knows for sure what might happen."

"When was the last time you had souvlaki?" Nick asked.

"What does that have to do with it?"

"Have you eaten anything with garlic in the last couple of days?"

"No."

"You're sure?"

"Yeah," Schanke answered.

"Okay." Nick looked around. No one was around to watch, except the bartender who was making a point to look down at his glass and dishrag as he frantically wiped imaginary specks. "Give me your wrist."

Schanke complied.

Nick did his best to get it over with quickly. Werewolf blood was similar to human, but tasted much sweeter. Suddenly Knight felt funny. Retracting fangs, he grabbed onto the nearest bar stool for support. The vampire gasped as a wave of electrifying power surged through him. He felt much stronger. Certainly, he was a match for LaCroix now.

Nick's mind adjusted to the new sensory input it was getting from his enhanced senses, especially the sense of smell. Odors mingled and blended together like watercolors, painting an entirely new view of the world. The vampire could sense magic more strongly now, too. The shadow's magic was like the smell of coffee to mortals, awakening them from lethargy. It stimulated him. It was as if he'd been asleep this whole time and had never known the true waking world. Nick hadn't realized until now exactly how much power Don Schanke had.

Schanke's eyes were wide open as he said, "Uh, Nick . . ."

"Don't tell me," Knight growled. "I'm changing."

"Yeah."

The bartender wisely put the glass on the counter before he looked up, but then he backed into the wine rack, nearly knocking it over. Schanke watched in astonishment as golden fur sprouted along Nick's arms and face and his ears became pointy. Then Don cracked up.

"This is *not* funny," Knight growled.

"Yeah, it is," Schanke replied, wiping tears from his eyes. "Come on, we'd better go before the effect wears off. Watch me closely."

Nick followed as Don disappeared into the nearest shadow. The sensation of so much magic surrounding him was electrifying. It was completely exhilarating, like the power the vampire recalled from the days when he'd embraced his dark side. The difference was that this power, although intoxicating, wasn't evil. It felt more like the magic from Excalibur, not holy but still good. If he stretched out with his senses, Nick could pick up the killer's trail. There was something familiar about it, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

Suddenly, Nick was pulled toward an unknown destination by a mysterious force that he couldn't resist. An eternity of a heartbeat later, Knight could see colors and light again. He let out a deep breath, then felt dizzy. An incredibly strong hand grabbed his arm. He heard Schanke say, "Woah, take it easy, partner."

"A little furry for a vampire, aren't you?" Lucas asked good-naturedly.

"This does wear off eventually, right?"

"Oh, yeah, sometime in the next century . . ." At Nick's low growl, Lucas hastily added, "just kidding." He extended his hand. "Lucas Forrester."

"Nick Knight."

"Great," Schanke said. "Now that everybody knows each other, can we get on with this?"

"Right," Lucas said. He tried the door leading to the hallway. It was locked. Schanke figured he was going to break off the doorknob, but the pack leader took a step backward. Lucas concentrated on the lock for a few moments. When it clicked open, Schanke realized that Forrester had some sort of telekinetic power.

"That must come in handy," Don remarked.

Lucas gave a nonchalant shrug. "Sometimes. Come on, let's go."

* * * * *

End of part 7

Wanderers of the Dark Part 8/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

The hallway was clear. Schanke could hear heartbeats nearby. There was a sniffling sound, as though a child were crying. Someone whispered, "Sssshhh, it'll be all right."

"Serena," Forrester breathed. "Thank God, she's alive."

There was a door at the end of the hallway. "Probably in there," Schanke said.

The door was locked, but Lucas used his ability to unlock it. A tall, slender woman with dark brown hair held a small child with curly dark hair, perhaps one year old, on her lap. She was not handcuffed. In fact, she had a bottle of milk, which was the only object in the room besides the chair and an empty bookcase. Serena was most definitely a normal human.

"Lucas!" She exclaimed, jumping up and kissing him. The baby started to cry. "We need to get out of here!"

"Yes, dear. This is Captain Schanke, from the Toronto police."

"You look familiar. Have you ever been on TV?" Serena asked.

"Just the local news and a few papers. It's my partner who's famous."

Nick looked sheepish under his fur. "I'm not normally furry."

"I'm sure." Serena turned to Lucas. "How are we going to get out of here?"

"We'll have to go out the front. We can't bring you two through the shadow in the closet since you're human."

Serena glanced at Don. "You're a werewolf?"

"Uh . . . kinda, sort of, yeah."

"You don't sound very sure," she said with a smile. "Which pack are you with?"

"The Silver Talons."

"Mmmm. Must be rough. I mean, you don't sound too happy about it."

Schanke winced. "Yeah, well, I wasn't exactly given much of a choice in the matter."

"No?" Serena sounded surprised. In her experience, everyone was given a choice before the conversion. Only the Rogues did not give their converts a choice because their numbers were so small.

"Let me put it this way," Schanke responded. "I was abducted against my will, taken to a foreign country, locked up for months on end, and nearly starved to death. Everybody back home thought I was dead. So I'm not entirely happy about it. But I can live with it. Okay?"

Lucas grimaced. "Sounds like Rogues to me. Did you catch the name of the pack, by any chance?"

"No. I was in Frankfurt, Germany, if that's any help."

"There are three Rogue packs in Frankfurt. That doesn't narrow it down much."

"They held me prisoner in an abandoned school."

"Okay, that helps. When I get home, I'll send out a few e-mails and see what I can come up with. In the meantime, let's get moving."

Suddenly a familiar scent filled the air. Don hesitated as he smelled fire, rotten fish, and magic. Around the next corner and two flights of stairs later, they stopped. Four werewolves sat playing poker at the dining room table. One of them was in furry mode. Lucas and Schanke exchanged glances.

Forrester growled. "Stay here," he whispered to his wife and gave her a quick kiss. The pack leader transformed into his wolverine form in the space of a heartbeat. "Revenge will be swift," he promised.

"Just remember, if any of them die, I'll have more paperwork to do," Schanke said.

"That's an incentive if I've ever heard one."

"It works for me," Nick answered.

Schanke stifled a laugh as he recalled threatening Knight with extra paperwork if the vampire dropped a perp out the window. Lucas went first down the stairs. One of the four werewolves looked up from his cards and swore.

"Get him!"

"Freeze! Police," Schanke announced.

There was something familiar about the furry werewolf. Nick flashed back to a memory of Victor Romanov and realized his eyes were the same.

"You!" Nick exclaimed.

The furry werewolf's eyes went wide in recognition. He jumped off the chair and picked it up, intending to throw it. Lucas moved with lightning speed and took out the first of the bad guys. Don followed the pack leader downstairs. "Stop where you are or I'll shoot!"

Two werewolves rushed towards Nick, who used his enhanced strength to slam the first one against the wall. The second one swung a punch, but Nick blocked it and threw the guy across the room. Knight's other attacker shape-shifted and slashed, scratching Nick's furry arm. Knight growled and punched him. Werewolf strength combined with vampire strength was a combination that made the vampire a match for LaCroix. Nick's opponent went down and shape-shifted into human form as he lost consciousness.

Lucas wrestled with his opponent and put the guy in a head lock, knocking over a chair in the process. Although the pack leader could have easily broken his opponent's neck, he didn't. Instead, Lucas did a karate-style over-the-shoulder throw. The other werewolf attempted to scramble to his feet, but Forrester kicked him in the chest and he stayed down.

Growling menacingly, Victor launched himself at Schanke in a football-style rush. Don fired his weapon. The first bullet only slowed the bad guy down slightly. Then Romanov disappeared. "What the . . ." Schanke exclaimed, then realized that Victor had vanished into a nearby shadow. Growling, he followed.

* * * * *

"You gotta be faster than that, pal," Don remarked, catching up to the bad guy in the weird black and white world.

Schanke dodged a punch and shape-shifted in the space of a heartbeat. Victor lunged for a nearby shadow, which was enhanced by the grayscale surroundings. Don tackled him and they both fell into the dark void. Schanke opened his eyes. Strangely, he could see his opponent, even though there was no natural light in this eerie place.

"You shouldn't have been able to follow me here," Romanov growled.

"Yeah, well, I did. The question is, what are you going to do about it?"

In response, Schanke's adversary launched himself forward, sharp claws extended, ready to grab his throat. Don moved swiftly, ducked, and came up behind him. "Why are you doing this?"

"Curious, aren't you?" Victor laughed. "Curiosity killed the cat."

"I'm not a cat."

"True. You have talent, Captain Schanke. Did you know that?"

"You're evading my question."

"And you're evading mine. You have the potential to be the most powerful of our kind in centuries. I could train you."

"You're a killer," Schanke responded.

"So are you. Did you think I didn't know? Word travels."

"That was different. It was in self-defense."

"That's no different. Do you know what is in those files? Information that could destroy all of us."

"Like what?" Schanke asked.

"Our Achilles' heels. Our weaknesses. The very things that we fear. I know you have a wife and a child. Tell me, what would you do if something happened to them? Would you go after the murderer?"

"Of course I would."

"As a cop, or one of us? Hmm? Ask yourself. You have the strength to see that the killer never harms anyone again. I'm sure your partner would understand. He's killed more than once in his time. I met him once, a long time ago. Nicholas de Brabant was notorious back then. We're the same, the three of us. We are wanderers of the dark in more ways than one. Tell me, how far are you willing to go in order to survive? How far would you go to protect your family?"

"You bastard." Schanke was getting ****ed. "I don't take threats lightly."

"I hope not." Romanov laughed. "What's it going to be? Will you allow me to teach you, or will you learn the hard way?"

"You're under arrest for murder and kidnapping."

"Only if you catch me." The other werewolf vanished.

Don tried to move forward, but found that all he could do was float in the void. He let out a howl of frustration. Blast! He had to find a way out of there. Concentrating, Schanke closed his eyes. The scent of the other werewolf lingered. In his mind, Don saw a trail of red and yellow and silver leading to an exit, which he couldn't get to because gravity (or the lack thereof) was not working in his favor. Desperately, the werewolf imagined himself grasping one end of the ribbon of haze. Suddenly, he felt a force pulling him forward and he could not resist.

Lucas and Nick looked startled as Schanke appeared out of nowhere, took a step forward, and vanished again. Schanke was back in fifties TV land. He saw his opponent waiting for him.

"Let's finish this," The bad guy growled.

"Yes," Don agreed.

The other werewolf tackled him. Schanke threw all of his weight against his opponent. They both tumbled to the ground. In a maneuver from his high school days, Don caught his antagonist in a headlock.

"It's over. Give up."

"No," Victor snarled and slashed his claws across Schanke's arm.

Schanke punched him hard and he blacked out. Finally, it was over. Don brought them both back to the real world and cuffed Victor. Too bad he couldn't use the silver handcuffs he'd taken off of Lucas, but he'd brought along a pair, just in case. Lucas stepped back as Don appeared in front of him with his unmoving but still breathing adversary. By this time, Nick's furriness had worn off.

"You got him!" Forrester remarked.

Knight shook his head in amazement. "Schanke, I met that guy during the French revolution."

Don gaped for a second, realizing the implications. "Man oh man, that's a long time. Geez, I bet we'll all be living on Mars in a couple of hundred years. I wonder if I'd still be affected by a full moon then. Doesn't Mars have its own moon? Would that count?"

Nick shrugged. "Who knows? Let's bring him in."

* * * * *

As they headed toward the front door, Sam's ghost appeared. Serena gasped and even Lucas looked surprised. "Sam!"

The ghost nodded. "Hello, Lucas."

"You did the right thing by giving the files to Kris, Sam," Lucas said.

The ghost nodded. "The blasted Rogues must have thought you still had the files."

"Yeah. But they'll see the error of their ways."

"Captain Schanke, thank you for your help. I'm glad you were able to find Lucas and Serena and Joey."

"No problem. Just doing my job."

Sam smiled. "I have to go now, this time for good."

"Oh. Goodbye." Schanke winced. That sounded lame. "Good luck in the, uh, afterlife."

"Yeah," Lucas added. "Best of luck, Sam."

"Serena, I wish you well. Little Joey, don't drive your parents nuts when you grow up, kiddo. Be good."

Lucas' wife had tears in her eyes. "Bye, Sam."

The ghost held up a hand in parting as he faded into nothingness.

It didn't take the local police long to wrap things up. As Schanke and the Forresters left the house, Lucas hailed a passing cab. The driver was, to the surprise of both werewolves, a dragon in disguise. His human form was about six foot tall, African American, with dark brown skin and black hair. He wore a sweatshirt from a local college and looked approximately twenty years old. The cab driver gave them all a scrutinizing gaze as he rolled down the window, then nodded. "Where are you folks headed?"

"Silver Moon casino," Forrester replied. "I don't suppose you know where that is?"

The cab driver grinned. "Yeah, the owner is an old friend. Hop in."

* * * * *

End of part 8

Wanderers of the Dark Part 9/9

Disclaimers in part 1 By Emily M. Hanson

* * * * *

"Case solved," Schanke said, grinning as they entered the casino.

"So when are you two heading back? Tomorrow?" Lucas asked.

"Yeah, probably," Knight replied. "Did Schanke tell you how we found Sam?"

"No."

"Since my old place burned down a few weeks ago, I've been looking at houses. I was at your place with a real estate agent. Sam's body was in the computer room downstairs."

"You want to buy that house? It's old-fashioned, it's much too big, it's . . ."

"Perfect," Nick supplied. "I love the trees. There's almost enough shade for me to go outside during the daytime. And the house is great."

"Okay. I think we can lower the price a bit, considering there was a murder and all you've done for us. Serena and I want to move into a smaller house in another suburb that's close to an elementary school. The neighbors are good people and pretty open-minded." He grinned mischievously. "If they put up with me howling at the full moon occasionally, I don't think they'll have any problems with a vampire."

"Good. I'm glad to hear that. Ready to head back to the hotel?" Nick asked.

"Sure." Schanke replied.

* * * * *

Nick drained a few packs of donated blood as Don flipped through TV channels. He settled on one showing a baseball game. It was out of town, at Wrigley Field. The vampire carefully packed away the empty plastic remnants of his lunch and flopped onto the empty bed.

"Hey, now there's a place I'd love to see."

"You like baseball?" Schanke sounded amazed.

"Yeah."

"What was the best game you ever saw?"

"I remember listening to a few games with Babe Ruth on the radio," Nick replied. "Couldn't actually go to them, since they were all during daylight hours."

"Yeah, I'll bet."

Schanke fell asleep in the middle of the ninth inning. Nick turned out the lights and finished watching the game.

When Don woke up, it was about seven in the morning and Knight was sleeping like a rock. He picked up the cell phone and phoned Myra. She answered cheerfully.

"Donny? Did you and Nick catch the bad guy?"

"Yeah, hon. We'll be coming home tomorrow. Um, there's something I need to tell you."

"What?"

He took a deep breath. "There's a very strong possibility that I, uh, might be around for a lot longer. I could outlive both you and Jenny."

"Donny, I love you no matter what."

Schanke gave a sigh of relief. "All right. Bye, love. I'll see you when I get home."

"Goodbye."

* * * *

The flight home was uneventful. Myra and Natalie met Nick and Schanke at the airport. Don gave his wife a big hug. The vampire put his arm around Natalie and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

"I missed you," Nick said.

"Same here."

"Who's up for some food?" Schanke asked. "The flight was over three hours long and we got nothing but pretzels."

"I'll pass, thanks," Knight answered.

"Yeah, you would. Myra, hon, do you want breakfast?"

"I could go for some. Natalie, want to come with us?"

"Sure. Nick, why don't you come along?"

"Okay," he relented.

"Man, look at all those shadows," Schanke said. "I never realized how many there were before."

Knight glanced around. It didn't seem any darker than normal. But given Schanke's recent experience, it was no wonder he was nervous. "They're just shadows."

"No, Nick. Nothing is 'just' anything anymore. You're not just a cop. I'm not just another guy. Appearances can be very deceiving."

"Here's the Caddy." Nick checked his pockets. "Uh oh, I don't have the keys. Schanke?"

Don quickly dug through his pockets and came up empty-handed. "You're joking, right?"

"No."

"I don't suppose you could just pull the door open."

"Then I'll have a big gaping hole in my car," Nick replied.

Schanke eyed the dark shadow beside the Caddy. "I'll try opening it from the inside."

He took a step forward, sensing the secret world that lay within the shadows. He cleared his mind. The power within him pulled him towards it almost like a magnet. Myra gasped and Natalie's jaw dropped as Schanke disappeared. A moment later, he reappeared in the driver's seat. The Caddy's doors clicked open as Schanke unlocked them. Grinning, he gave a thumbs up.

Myra hugged him. "That was amazing!"

Don felt something by his foot. Reaching down, he picked up Nick's keys. "These yours?"

Knight caught the keys as Don tossed them to him. "Thanks."

"No problem." Schanke moved over to the passenger side. "I can't imagine what it would be like to live for hundreds of years. Don't you ever get bored?"

Nick shook his head. "Life is as exciting as you make it."

As Knight started the Caddy, Schanke gazed out the window. Although there was darkness all around, he did not have to let it overwhelm him. The shadows would not consume him as they had consumed Victor Romanov because he refused to let them do so. Victor was wrong about him being a wanderer of the dark.

* * * * *

The End

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