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Shadow Fire

EmilyH

MN Sci-fi Fan
Joined
Jun 3, 2001
Messages
356
Shadow Fire By Emily M. Hanson

Disclaimers: I don't own any of the recognizable characters from Forever Knight. However, this story contains several original characters. Please don't borrow them without my permission. Although this story is in the fantasy genre, it is not a crossover with any other series, just the product of my own very active imagination. This story is PG-13. It is part of the Schanke's Return series.

While writing this story, I did a little research and found the web site, http://www.eMedicine.com, to be very informative.

Thanks to David for beta-reading and also to my readers. Permission is granted to archive.

* * * * *

Part 1

"We've got a fresh one," Matthew Hastings said. He was the new intern. Finishing up his last year of medical school, he was a tall young man in his mid-twenties with wavy brown hair and intense blue eyes. Matthew had the unlikely middle name of Ulysses, which had been his grandfather's first name, and he preferred to be called by his full first name instead of Matt.

"Great," Dr. Natalie Knight replied. Having been married for about seven months, it was still a bit strange to think of herself as Natalie Knight -- but that was her name now, and she had better get used to it. Formerly known as Natalie Lambert, the coroner was in her late thirties. Her long, curly auburn hair was currently tied back. She wore a white lab coat and gloves.

The gurney was wheeled in and Matthew helped put the corpse on the examination table. Even though the corpse's face was badly burned, there was something vaguely familiar about him. Matthew couldn't put his finger on it until he glanced at the ID, sealed within a plastic bag. "This is Alistair Drake! Dr. Knight, he's one of the best stage magicians ever -- was, I mean."

"I've heard of him. He was famous for his escapes."

"Well, he didn't escape this time." Nick Knight, vampire and co-captain of the Paranormal Investigations department, stood in the doorway. His partner, Don Schanke, was behind him.

Natalie looked at her husband. "What do you mean?"

"He was chained inside a box from which he should have been able to get loose, but there was an explosion instead. It happened at his show earlier tonight. There were hundreds of witnesses. No one else was injured."

"Do we have a suspect?"

Nick nodded. "His assistant. She's being interrogated right now." Entering the room, he gave Nat a kiss. "Are we still on for breakfast?"

"If there are no emergencies, probably."

Matthew raised an eyebrow. "Breakfast? I thought vampires couldn't eat food."

"Not normally," Nick answered. "I'm on an experimental medication."

"Oh."

Nick had received a large supply of special tea for a wedding gift from Xing Long, which combined a minute amount of dragon's blood with some rare herbs. It suppressed the beast within him for a time. During that temporary period he could eat, briefly go out in the sunlight, and even touch a holy object without feeling pain. Without it, Nick felt that he and Nat would have never been able to consummate their marriage -- at least, not without causing serious harm or bringing her across, which he wanted to avoid. LaCroix had already laid his claim on Natalie if Nick were to bring her across. The dragons wanted the tea to remain a secret for now.

Mortals had discovered the truth about vampires just over a year ago when a powerful Enforcer wanted to gain more power than was good for him. He tried to lead the Enforcers when two fledglings accidentally revealed their secret through an act of heroism on national TV. Ironically, it was the Enforcers' violence which led mortals to learn the truth about vampires. The Elders destroyed all of the Enforcers who did not surrender. Later, the fledglings and those like Nick were used to salvage the tarnished image of vampires through the media, and to build relations with the mortal communities.

The sight of blue residue beneath the corpse's fingernails caught Natalie's trained eye. She turned to Matthew. "Notice anything unusual about the body?"

"You mean, other than the fact that he was burned to a crisp?"

"Yes."

The intern gave the deceased magician a closer look. "Hmm. There's some blue stuff on his shoes."

"And beneath his fingernails," Natalie added.

Matthew nodded. "Yeah. What do you think it is?"

"I don't know. Maybe paint or some type of chemical." She shrugged. "We should let the lab techs figure it out. Schanke, did you notice anything?"

As a werewolf, Don could sense things that others couldn't. His sense of smell went far beyond just ordinary scent. He could also sense things like emotions and personality. Schanke had become a werewolf after he was abducted during the bombing case several years ago, when a bomber nicknamed Voodoo had blown up an airplane carrying Captain Cohen. Don was supposed to have been on the plane, but he had been abducted before it took off.

He had been presumed dead until his reappearance just over a year ago. Schanke had been held against his will in Europe for months until he finally managed to escape. He also had the ability to walk into certain types of shadows that led to a strange black and white place, and could emerge elsewhere in the normal world.

"Me? Nothin' but the smell of death…and is that fresh coffee?" Don sniffed. He thought he heard something odd, but seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he chalked it up to not having enough caffeine.

"I just started making a pot," Grace said. "Hi."

"Hello, Grace," Nick replied.

"Hi," Schanke answered.

The tall, dark-skinned woman was Natalie's assistant and also her best friend. Their relationship could not be defined simply by the confines of the workplace, or by simple friendship alone. They enjoyed a form of sisterhood that went far beyond the bounds of biological ties.

"Huh," she said, glancing down at the body, "I wonder what that weird blue stuff is?"

"That's what we're going to find out," Natalie answered. She grabbed her tape recorder and took a plastic bag and a scalpel. "Would you like to do the honors, Matthew?"

"Sure."

He scraped the substance from the fingernails while she recorded details on the suspect's height, weight, and age. Finally, the scrapings went into the plastic bag, which was labeled appropriately.

"Mind taking that down to the lab?" Natalie asked.

"Nope." Matthew grinned and headed down the hallway.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, the suspect being interrogated was not coping well. Every time one of the two cops asked her a question, Sara Richardson would break down and cry. She was Alistair Drake's assistant and the last person to see him alive. Detectives Tracy Vetter and Javier Vachon exchanged weary glances.

"Think she's overcome with guilt?" Tracy suggested.

"Either that, or grief," Vachon replied.

"Or both."

"I didn't kill him," Sara finally choked out between sobs. "It wasn't me, I swear."

"Then who was it?" she asked.

"I…want…my lawyer."

Tracy sighed. "That's it, then. We're not going to get any further."

"Nope," Vachon replied.

* * * * *

To be continued...
 

EmilyH

MN Sci-fi Fan
Joined
Jun 3, 2001
Messages
356
Part 2

Part 2

Glittering light sparkled as a young woman appeared seemingly out of nowhere into a dark alley. She was tall and slender with long blonde hair and violet eyes. She wore a white tank top and faded jeans, despite the cool spring weather. Ashley Montgomery Blake was exactly where she wanted to be.

Not too far off, there was a gunshot and a scream. The one who needed to be served justice ran from his victim. He darted around the corner as sirens wailed in the distance. Someone nearby must have called the cops. Her eyes glowed with their own inner light in the darkness. They became indigo pools of electricity and power waiting to drown anyone who looked into them.

"You're not going anywhere, Julius. You've violated our most sacred law, and you know what that means."

"It had to be done. You know it did! She was a filthy meat-eater, and a whore besides. And," his voice trembled as if the very words pained him, "she killed her unborn child."

"Be that as it may, the murder of any living creature by one of us is still against the rules. You should have known better."

"But…"

"Silence! I have been summoned by the High Council to pass judgment. Because of all your crimes, you are hereby sentenced to death. I take no pleasure in carrying out this sentence, only in knowing that no more mortals will die needlessly by your actions."

Ashley began to chant in a language unheard by any outsider, except perhaps some of the most ancient dragons. The vampires and werewolves knew nothing of her race's existence, which was a good thing, considering how sloppy they'd been about revealing themselves to humans.

Julius's human form was tall and bulky. He appeared to be a human male in his early 30's. His violet eyes widened as he recognized the spell she was casting. It had been banned by the High Council except for use by the Justices of Order and Peace, which Ashley was.

As the life drained out of him and was sucked into an energy vortex, Julius wondered at the unfairness of it all. Why couldn't they see that his actions were right? He wasn't the only dissenter. Others like him would take his place. Several moments after the energy vortex vanished, Ashley glanced around cautiously, and then stepped onto the city streets.

* * * * *

Later, in the bullpen at police headquarters, Nick's phone rang. It was dispatch. Two bodies had been found. One was several blocks away, holding a gun. The first victim had apparently died of a bullet wound, but the other's cause of death was not obvious. Moreover, some mysterious footprints had been found, suggesting that someone had flown or levitated down because the footprints only went out of the alley, not into it.

Tracy and Vachon were busy on the Alistair Drake case, so Nick checked the computer database. There was only one pair of officers in the paranormal investigations unit who were currently not working on anything. He stood up and gazed across the bullpen to where they were sitting. "Detective Ripley, Lt. Weaver, something's just come in."

Lt. Michelle Weaver had been working there for about four months. She appeared to be a tall athletic young woman with long, dark brown hair and sapphire blue eyes, but was in reality a dragon. Though she hadn't yet admitted it out loud, Don Schanke had been able to sense it and told Nick. She was careful to mask her scent so that Captain Schanke wouldn't constantly sneeze. Dragons could do that. Nick had no idea how old she really was or what her real name was.

Her partner, Detective Adam Ripley, suspected strongly but had no proof. Schanke recalled when he'd still been a normal human and suspected that Nick Knight was anything but normal. After his encounters with Janette and LaCroix at the Raven, Don realized that he couldn't tell anyone about his suspicions. Until he'd been kidnapped by a rogue werewolf pack and escaped, he'd had no direct evidence to confirm the notion. He wondered how long Lt. Weaver would be able to conceal her secret.

"A case?" Adam asked.

"Yes," Nick said. "Two bodies were found on 15th and 3rd. Looks like it's a paranormal case. I want you two on it."

"Yes, Sir."

* * * * *

A short time later, Det. Ripley and Lt. Weaver were on the scene. Michelle's nostrils flared at the unmistakable scent of magic, and powerful magic at that. Adam gave her a look as he carefully picked up a gun laying at the man's feet and placed it into an evidence bag.

"What do you smell?" he asked.

"Blood," she answered and knelt down next to where the first body had been found. She traced a circle with her finger and then lifted it, sniffing the blue dust she'd picked up. "And powder."

"What kind of powder?" Adam inquired, trying very hard not to get frustrated.

"You'd never believe me if I told you," she answered, for once being completely straightforward.

"Try me," he said, folding his arms and looking into her eyes.

"I'm not even certain this is the real thing," she replied. "I would need to test it in order to find out."

"Well, what do you think it is?"

"Fairy dust."

Adam's eyebrows shot up at that. "You're not serious."

"I told you that you'd never believe me."

"Oh, come on. I mean, nobody's ever seen a fairy."

"No one knew that vampires and werewolves existed until very recently. Did that mean they weren't real before now?"

"Of course not," he replied. "But fairies?"

"They are very clever at keeping out of sight," she answered. "I'm guessing that someone discovered the fairy dust somewhere and knew what it was." Michelle sniffed the air again. "The other victim was obviously killed with a bullet, but this one died in a far different manner. This is the result of a very dark and ancient spell. It certainly wouldn't be known to humans, and I doubt that even a vampire or a werewolf would have been able to learn it."

Adam was following her train of thought. "So a non-human killed this man?"

"Yes, and I believe that he was a non-human himself. There is a very strong illusion surrounding him."

"Can you break it?" he asked.

"Probably."

But Michelle wanted to do that in private, away from prying human eyes. The counter-spell had the effect of negating all spells within a certain radius, including the caster's, and she would be transformed into her natural shape. She trusted Adam like no other human she'd known before, and yet, she was afraid to tell him her secret. Dragons were solitary by nature, but she'd found human companionship pleasant, and didn't want to be treated any differently by others.

He looked at her. "What do you need for that?"

She returned his gaze. "Space. Lots of space."

"Natalie's office…"

"It's much too cramped. An empty parking lot would be much better."

Adam finally nodded. "Okay. I think that can be arranged."

After examining the next victim, it was obvious how she had died: from a gunshot wound to the chest. The weapon he had was probably the same one that was used to kill her. But who had killed him?

* * * * *

A short time later, Michelle stood in an empty parking lot with the victim's body. Adam was in the car along with Natalie, who'd had to come along to convince the guys at the morgue to drop off the body temporarily in the first place. The car was parked approximately ten feet away. Michelle had sworn them both to secrecy.

Softly, she chanted in the archaic dragon language. The air began to ripple. Then a greenish-blue glow surrounded her and the corpse. Natalie and Adam gaped as Lt. Weaver was transformed into a large dragon with shimmering royal-blue scales. The corpse took on an equine form. A single silver horn protruding from its forehead identified it as a unicorn.

"No way," Adam said, shaking his head in disbelief. "That can't be possible."

The dragon he knew as Michelle craned her neck around and looked at him. He jumped as she said, "Just because you've never seen something before doesn't meant that it's impossible."

"Incredible," Natalie breathed, getting out of the car.

Adam followed her. He gaped at the dragon for several moments before remarking, "This doesn't make any sense. A gun was found in his possession, and I'm betting it's the same weapon that was used to kill the woman. Why would a unicorn shoot someone?"

"I don't know," the dragon rumbled. "Unicorns are known to abhor violence. You're right. This makes no sense."

"Do you know much about them?"

"We had formal relations with the unicorns thousands of years ago, but those we knew of disappeared and were never heard from again. They must have been in hiding as we were. We must find a way to contact them and find out why this has occurred."

"Sounds good to me," Adam replied as Michelle shape-shifted back into her human form.

"You won't tell anyone about me?" she asked.

"A promise is a promise," he answered. "But I'm guessing that Knight and Schanke already know, or at least strongly suspect what you are."

She nodded. "They are very observant."

Natalie looked at the unicorn's body. "What are we going to do? Someone is bound to notice that. I'm sure the media will find out eventually. You got rid of the original illusion, didn't you?"

"It wasn't an illusion as I thought at first, but an actual transformation. Apparently, unicorns are shape-shifters too. I can disguise it temporarily, which will allow us to bring it into the morgue without any hassles. But that illusion will only last for 24 hours."

"Fine by me," Nat said. "As long as it works."

Michelle nodded and began to chant in the Draconian language. The air around the unicorn rippled and shimmered until it regained its original human appearance. Unbeknownst to them, a shadowy figure stood in the alley across the street, watching with keen interest. Suddenly it vanished, leaving behind a small trace of blue powder that glowed for just a few brief moments as it scattered onto the ground.

* * * * *
 

EmilyH

MN Sci-fi Fan
Joined
Jun 3, 2001
Messages
356
Part 3

Part 3

* * * * *

Schanke gaped in belief as Lt. Weaver and Det. Ripley told him what they'd learned. "You've gotta be kidding me. That guy was a unicorn? Are you serious?"

"This is no joke," Michelle said. "I can prove it if you wish, but you'll have to go to the morgue with us."

"Okay, I believe you." Don shook his head. "Man, oh man, oh man, oh man. I thought I'd heard everything until now. What's next? Leprechauns, goblins, and elves?"

"Actually, I'm not so sure they don't exist. You can't assume anything anymore," Adam said.

"You've got that right," Schanke replied. "Listen, find out everything you can about the murder victims. I want to know what killed that guy."

"You got it, Captain."

"Yes, Sir," Michelle replied.

* * * * *

"What is reality?"

The Nightcrawler's voice floated over the airwaves. Lucien LaCroix was back in town. He'd decided that he'd had enough of Italy, at least, for the time being.

"Is reality what we choose to make of it, or is it an ocean that fate throws us into, waiting to see if we will sink or swim? Most of us would like to believe that we have control over our own fate. I believe we do, and those who find themselves just drifting along are too weak-minded to take control of their destiny. Agree or disagree? I'm waiting to hear from you. Ah, a caller already. You're on the air with the Nightcrawler. Let's hear what you have to say."

There was a brief crackle of static on the line, and then what sounded like, "Eye!"

"I'm afraid I didn't quite catch that. My hearing is excellent, but your telephone connection obviously is not."

After a moment of silence, the male caller said quite emphatically, "Die!"

"Well, that was interesting," LaCroix replied dryly. "You are right that all mortals must die eventually. However, you're forgetting that if a vampire brings a mortal man across, he is then no longer mortal. If he is intelligent enough to survive, he will live forever."

"DIE!" the caller exclaimed, then disconnected.

"Most intriguing," LaCroix mused. Surely the caller wasn't serious about his death threat. If he was, he would regret it. "I do hope that someone with a higher degree of intelligence calls in. I would hate to think that Toronto has become overrun by Neanderthals in the short time that I've been away."

* * * * *

Sylvain Macalister set down his phone with a grimace. He hated vampires. They were despicable creatures because their very existence threatened nature. Vampires were life stealers. They were no means the most powerful of the supernatural creatures that walked the earth. However, they acted like they were the only ones who mattered.

The dragons should have done something about them long ago, but they kept to themselves, using their magic for ends that suited only their kind. Werewolves were stronger, but the vampires outnumbered them. Thus, in Sylvain's opinion, the task of doing something about vampires had fallen to the reclusive unicorns. He'd petitioned the High Council more than once, but his pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Finally, he'd begun recruiting like-minded individuals and teaching them how to deal with those who broke nature's laws.

Julius had been his most promising recruit. However, Julius had made himself glaringly obvious. The High Council members might be old, but they were neither stupid nor blind. In short, he'd screwed up. It was a good thing that he hadn't revealed Sylvain's plan. The High Council knew nothing of him and his group of dissenters.

But everything might still be ruined. One of Julius' associates had just told him that a dragon working with the police had cast a spell to reveal the corpse's true nature. If the media got wind of this, the intricate tapestry that had been woven to conceal the unicorns' existence would come unraveled. Everything they had worked for could be destroyed in a matter of days.

Carefully he took an ancient book down from his bookshelf. The book was centuries old, but protected from rapid aging with a rarely-used spell that set it in its own little pocket of time. Anyone else wouldn't be able to open it without the key, which Sylvain carried on a chain around his neck at all times. The book contained spells long forbidden by the High Council, but which one of his ancestors had the foresight to write down.

As he unlocked it, the book shimmered in his hands. Sylvain opened the book to the page he wanted to find, as if it knew that was his desire. It was a dangerous spell, but then all magic carried a certain risk. While he chanted, the air grew hazy and a thick mist came out of nowhere. In the center of the room was a creature made of pure shadow, blacker than the night sky, and completely void of color except for its crimson eyes.

"First, you will destroy the unicorn's body that the police have by reducing it to ashes. Second, you will kill the vampire who goes by the name Lucien LaCroix. Do whatever you have to in order to accomplish this. Don't return until you are finished."

"I hear and obey, Massster," the servant hissed, and then vanished.

Julius nodded. Someone had to take care of things. It might as well be him. Destroying LaCroix would weaken the vampires in Toronto. When they learned of his death, they would look to their council for leadership. Julius would deal with them one by one. After the council's demise, the vampires would scatter across the Earth. They would never to be as strong as they once were. Eventually, Julius would convince the High Council that the remaining vampires needed to be destroyed in order to save life on Earth.

* * * * *

Back at the police station, Tracy Vetter was at her desk filling out paperwork on her latest case. At the desk behind her, Javier Vachon was also filling out paperwork.

"I thought paper was supposed to be obsolete by now," he remarked.

"Supposedly," Tracy agreed. "But it's not." Suddenly her phone rang. "Detective Vetter," she answered.

"Tracy?"

Stunned by the familiar voice on the other end, all she could do was gasp. "Jody? Jody Fraser?"

"It's me," her former sorority sister replied. "I know it's been a long time, Trace."

"That's the understatement of the year." The last time she had seen her friend, Jody had been blind and suffering from the debilitating illness known as MS. After the secret about vampires had been revealed to the world, Nick had mentioned that someone had brought Jody across, but even he didn't know where she was staying. "How are you?"

"Great, Tracy." In the background, a dog barked. "Oh, Perry says hi."

"Perry? Your seeing-eye dog? I thought Nick…uh…" Tracy was at a loss for words.

"He didn't. It's a long story, Trace. I've changed. Perry's changed. The reason I'm calling is that I'm going to be in town for a convention. I was wondering if you'd like to catch up."

"I'd love that."

"Great. Oh, Tracy, I've wanted to call for so long, but I couldn't because of the Enforcers. I'm…uh, I was brought across. Did Nick tell you?"

"Yeah. I'm glad to hear that you're doing ok."

"I am. My plane comes in Friday night at 10:00."

"Do you already have a rental car?"

"No. I hardly ever drive anymore. I mean, why drive when you can fly?"

"Right," Tracy replied. "I could pick you up from the airport and we could talk on the way to the hotel."

"That would be nice," Jody responded.

"Is Perry coming?"

"No. The hotel doesn't allow dogs." In the background, Perry barked. She laughed. "He says he'd love to see Toronto again. Maybe some other time."

"Okay." Tracy wrote down the flight information, then said goodbye to her friend.

Vachon looked up from his desk. "So your friend is a vampire now?"

Tracy nodded. "The last time I saw her, she had MS and was blind. She has a dog named Perry. He was her seeing-eye dog."

"Not anymore, I'll bet," he muttered. "Did you hear about the new case?"

She looked surprised. "New case? I thought we were working on the new case."

"I'm talking about the two bodies that were just brought in."

"Two?"

"Yeah. I overheard Ripley and Weaver talking to Captain Schanke. Would you believe they think one of the murder victims was a unicorn?"

Tracy blinked in surprise. "That can't be true. I remember reading about them in fairy tales when I was a kid."

"What about vampires and werewolves?" Javier asked, watching her blush slightly.

"Okay, good point. But how did the unicorn die?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Lt. Weaver thinks it was a magical spell because of the fairy dust Natalie found on the body. I don't know how she knows so much about that kind of stuff."

Tracy glanced around and whispered, "My guess is that she's not human. I think Nick and Schanke know for sure, but they're not telling us."

"She's not a vampire or a werewolf. I'd sense it."

Tracy nodded. "So what does that leave?"

"A dragon," Javier answered. "Do you think she is one?"

"I don't know. Why don't you ask her?"

"Ask me what?" Michelle said, approaching them. "I could hear you from over the other side of the room." She glanced around. "I don't think anyone else did, though, so don't worry."

Tracy blushed even more. "Vachon brought it up."

The vampire looked slightly embarrassed. "You are a dragon, aren't you?"

"Maybe. Why should it matter?"

He sighed. "It's just a bit odd that a human would know so much about magic. I'm surprised no one else has questioned it. If you're trying to keep a low profile, I'd suggest playing dumb."

"If I 'played dumb,' as you say, that wouldn't get my homicide case solved any faster."

"She has a point," Tracy remarked. "Look, Michelle, I don't care what you are. But I've got to admit, I'm curious. Was that murder victim really a unicorn?"

Michelle glanced around. "Come with me, both of you. We shouldn't talk about this where people might overhear."

They went into the break room and closed the door.

"All right," she said, inhaling deeply. "There are many things in this world that still have not been fully revealed. Perhaps it is best that I tell you so if you find signs of them, you'll know what they are. There were traces of a blue substance found on Alistair Drake's body. This same substance was found near the body of a man who turned out to be a unicorn. There are spells that can detect and reverse such transformations. I think that your magician was killed by the same person who murdered the unicorn, or at least with the same spell."

"You mean a fairy killed them?" Tracy wondered aloud.

"No, fairies are quite harmless. My guess is that someone obtained the fairy dust for the sole purpose of casting the spell. It is rare magic indeed that requires physical components. The ancients among my kind once used such magic, but it was later forbidden because the effects were too unpredictable and could cause great harm."

"Then who killed them?" Vachon asked.

"That is what we must find out."

* * * * *
 

EmilyH

MN Sci-fi Fan
Joined
Jun 3, 2001
Messages
356
Part 4

Natalie put down her tape recorder. It was 4:15 AM, an hour before sunrise and an hour before she was due to meet Nick for breakfast. She rubbed her eyes. She'd been feeling very tired lately for no apparent reason. And she hadn't been very hungry, either.

Nick had been taking his "cure" more often lately. Not that she didn't enjoy the time they spent together. It was as if he was trying to make up for all those years without love or being loved. He was more passionate than ever. Still, she knew he wished for the one thing that was missing from his life, that had always been missing and he thought he could never have: children. With the dragon's magical tea, they'd hoped that part of the curse might be broken. But it had been seven months. However, Nick and Nat hadn't given up hope.

A sudden movement in the corner startled her. She blinked, but there was nothing visible except shadows. She squinted a bit anyway, remembering Schanke's shadow-walking ability. No werewolf appeared, and neither did anything else, not even a certain mischievous fairy dragon that often took the form of a black cat. "Gotta go home and take a nap," she muttered, rubbing her eyes. "Right after breakfast."

Crimson eyes appeared out of nowhere as the shadow moved, taking on a sinister appearance. "Move or die," it said in a voice that chilled her to the bone.

Natalie stood paralyzed with fear. Until now, she thought she'd seen everything that could possibly scare her. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, you name it, she'd seen it. But not this thing. What manner of creature was it? She didn't even have a proper name for it. As it slinked toward her, part of the shadow-thing reached out and ignited into flames. The smoke detector went off, and water streamed into the room. However, no amount of water could extinguish the burning shadow-thing. Natalie screamed.

"Dr Knight!" Matthew burst into the room carrying a fire extinguisher. "My God, what is that thing?"

"I don't know!"

The intern let loose with the fire extinguisher, but when the mist cleared, the shadow creature was still burning…and coming closer.

"We need to get out of here," Matthew exclaimed. "Come on!"

Grace appeared in the doorway. "Nat? Are you okay?"

"Fine. Let's get out of here! Go!"

But the burning shadow-thing moved quickly to block their path, as the flames threatened to engulf them all. Natalie screamed.

* * * * *

At the police station, Captain Reese picked up his phone. "Captain Reese, Metro Homicide. Uh huh. Okay. Thanks." He stepped out of his office. "Knight!"

Nick looked up from his computer. "Yeah?"

"There's a fire at the morgue. Nobody knows what started it, but they're talking about some kind of shadow monster straight out of hell. Could be related to one of your department's cases."

Nick stood up and put his coat on. "I'm going over there to make sure Nat's okay."

"I'm coming with you," Schanke said. "We don't know what that thing is for sure."

"Okay. Tracy?"

"Yeah?" she replied.

"You and Vachon hold down the fort, okay?" Nick asked.

She nodded and elbowed her partner, who was concentrating on a form. "Hey."

He looked up. "You got it, Knight."

* * * * *

As she collapsed from smoke inhalation, Natalie felt something moving inside her. Despite the fact that her lungs ached with pain, she gasped. It was ironic. She was finally pregnant with Nick's child, and now she was going to die in a blazing inferno. Tears streamed down her face, which could partly be attributed to smoke exposure, but also to sadness.

Why was the universe so unfair? She carried the child Nick had been waiting for all these centuries, and now it wasn't even going to have a chance to live. And knowing Nick, he'd probably end up blaming himself later, when it wasn't even his fault.

"Nick…" Somehow, the name escaped from her parched throat.

"Nat!"

Could it be him? Was he really there, or was it her mind becoming delusional as she experienced brain death?

"Schanke, help me break down the door!"

"You got it."

She heard them count to three, and then the door shattered. Enraged, the burning shadow creature hissed. Nick vamped out and hissed back. Schanke grabbed the fire extinguisher that Matthew had dropped on the floor when he'd passed out from the smoke. But just as before, the fire extinguisher didn't work.

In her semi-conscious state, it took Natalie a while to realize that Nick was carrying her out. He was so strong, and yet so gentle. That constantly amazed her. He would make a great father, assuming that he'd gotten to her in time.

"Baby," Nick thought he heard Nat say.

Assuming that she meant him, even though she'd never called him that before, he said, "I'm here. It's all right."

"We're…going…to have a baby," she gasped.

"What?" In his surprise, Nick very nearly dropped his precious cargo. "Nat! Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Didn't know," she whispered.

As he brought her outside, they were greeted by several EMTs who carefully placed Nat on a stretcher. Schanke followed, carrying Matthew. Grace was conscious but had to lean on Don for support.

"She's pregnant," Nick told them.

"We'll take good care of her," one of the emergency medical technicians assured him.

"What happened to the burning shadow?" he asked Schanke.

"It's still in there. I just ran faster than it could. Did you just say Natalie is pregnant?"

Grace coughed. Like Schanke, she couldn't believe her ears. In all the years she had known Natalie, Grace had never known her friend to be the cheating type. Besides, Nat would have confided in her. That meant Nick had to be the father. Natalie had told her about the dragons some time ago. This wasn't the type of thing they would be able to keep quiet. Eventually, the secret about the properties of dragon's blood would get out. What would happen afterward was anybody's guess.

"Nat's pregnant?"

"Yes! We have to go back inside and find a way to destroy that thing, before it destroys us!"

Schanke carefully put the intern down onto a stretcher as one of the emergency medical technicians helped Grace. Then he turned to look at Nick. "In case you didn't notice, the fire extinguisher didn't exactly work. What are we supposed to do? Bore it to death?"

The vampire was about to reply when an EMT stepped forward. She was tall and slender with long red hair and green eyes. "Are you Captain Nick Knight?"

Nick nodded. "Yes."

"I'm afraid your wife is in very critical condition right now. She inhaled a lot of smoke. It'll be touch and go. We're going to rush her to the closest hospital. They'll be able to do more for her."

"Let me see her first."

The EMT nodded. Everyone stepped out of Nick's way as he approached Nat, who was about to be lifted into an ambulance.

"Hey," he said.

"Nick…"

"What?"

Her voice was very faint and growing fainter by the second. "I don't think…I'm going to make it."

"Don't say that. You'll be fine. You have to be."

"Nick, this isn't a movie. We're not following a script."

"I can't believe the fates brought you to me, only to take you away. I can't believe that. You'll make it."

"Promise me something."

"What?"

"You'll bring me across if my condition gets worse. Don't let me die."

He looked at his feet. They'd had this discussion before. It wasn't the first time. The problem was that LaCroix had staked his claim on Natalie if Nick were to bring her across. Not to mention that he wasn't willing to risk his unborn child like that. "Natalie, I can't. What about the baby?"

Suddenly, she gasped for air. A nearby EMT quickly gave her an oxygen mask. "This should help. Captain Knight, we have to go now, or not at all."

He nodded. "Go. I'll be right behind you. Schanke!"

Don was watching the firefighters as they did their best to put out the blaze. "How's Nat doing?"

"Not good."

"What about that?" he said, gesturing towards the building. "We still don't know where that shadow monster came from, or if it's going to cause any more trouble."

"We'll have to find out later. I don't know if Nat's going to make it."

"What are you talking about? She's a survivor."

"Yeah, but she inhaled a lot of smoke. She's only mortal, Schank. She wants me to bring her across."

"What about the kid?"

"That was my thought too."

"Well, she doesn't necessarily have to be a vampire to survive."

Nick's eyes got very large. Then he grabbed Don's shoulder. "Come with me to the hospital, Schank."

"Are you sure about this?"

He nodded. "You're Nat's best chance of survival."

"Okay, but I have to tell ya, I hate heights," the werewolf admitted.

"You might want to close your eyes, then," Nick said. He took off carrying Schanke.

* * * * *

Part 5

The shadow fire hissed as it fulfilled its first obligation to its master, making sure that the corpse disintegrated while the mortals outside tried their best to thwart its efforts by spraying great quantities of water. Since the flames were magical, they would remain until the unicorn's corpse was destroyed. After that task was finished, the summoned creature extinguished the flames and vanished into the shadows, prepared to take on its next task.

At the Raven, Lucien LaCroix picked up the microphone. "It's nearly sunrise, gentle listeners, which means that I must be going. I leave you with these words…"

Suddenly, he stopped in mid-sentence as one of the shadows emerged into the light and transformed into a living flame. "Oh, my."

* * * * *

After arriving at the hospital, Nick set Schanke down on solid ground. He bent down and kissed the ground in a theatrical gesture. "Man oh man, I'm lucky I'm a werewolf now, cause if I was a normal human being, I think my heart would've stopped. That was wilder than any roller coaster ride I've ever been on."

"That was nothing."

"Ha! That's easy for you to say. You've had 800 years to get used to flying."

He headed down the hallway. "Come on, fur face."

Don stared at him in amazement. "I hope you're not going to call Natalie that. I don't think she'll take it very well. She might not have as much of a sense of humor about it as I do." The vampire ignored him. "Aw, man." Schanke had to run down the hallway to catch up.

"How is she?" Knight asked the nurse, who had just set up an IV drip in Natalie's room. "I'm her husband."

"Not well, I'm afraid." The nurse turned around and suddenly gasped in recognition. "Captain Knight?"

She'd seen him on TV in several interviews with local reporters. After the news about vampires had broken out, Nick Knight had been the local media's favorite for a while. He'd done a handful of interviews, then disappeared from the limelight except during high-profile investigations.

"Yeah."

"Funny, I thought you'd be more pale. You look pretty normal to me…no offense."

"None taken. I'm on experimental medication," Nick said. "I can go out into the sun for a short time."

"Ah. That explains a few things. Did you know your wife is pregnant?"

Nick nodded. "I just found out tonight."

"Congratulations. I guess the medication works."

"Only temporarily, though." He glanced at Natalie, whose face was nearly as white as the sheets on the hospital bed where she lay unconscious. "What's her condition?"

"The doctor took some X-rays. They're being developed right now. He said the baby looked okay at first glance, but until he has a chance to study the X-ray, it's anyone's guess."

The doctor came into the room. He was a tall Asian man in his late 30's. He glanced first at Don and then at Nick. "Excuse me, are either of you related to this patient? If not, then you shouldn't be in here."

"I'm Natalie's husband," Nick said. "And you are?"

"Dr. Lee. I'm sorry, Mr. Knight. The X-rays show that your wife's lungs are damaged very badly. She also appears to have suffered from asphyxiation. If she had been exposed to the smoke for a lesser period of time, perhaps her chances of survival would be greater."

"What are they?"

"I'd say 15% or 20%, depending on whether she's a fighter." Dr. Lee took a deep breath. "Your wife is…"

"Pregnant, I know," he replied.

The doctor nodded. "The baby is fine, but it's less than a month old. It wouldn't survive outside the womb." Dr. Lee glanced around. "I can make sure you have some privacy and donated blood ready, if you're going to bring your wife across."

"That won't be necessary." Nick and Schanke exchanged glances. "I have something else in mind."

* * * * *

LaCroix hissed as the shadow fire came towards him, more rapidly than he'd thought possible. This was obviously no ordinary fire. His eyes narrowed as he recognized the creature for what it was, a fire elemental. He'd thought that such things only existed in legends and myths. According to such myths, they had to be summoned by a powerful sorcerer.

"Whom do you serve?"

"My massster's name is not of your concern."

"He sent you to kill me, did he not? What did he offer you?"

The fire elemental hesitated. "I ssshall not betray him!"

"Did he offer you power beyond your wildest dreams? Such things cannot be given by mere mortals, you know."

The creature hissed angrily. "You are trying to trick me!"

"No, I am trying to enlighten you," LaCroix replied calmly. "What has your master offered you for your efforts? His blood, money, or power? The first two can certainly be given, but true power can only be taken, never granted."

It contemplated the vampire's words. "I ssssense no deceit in you. How can thissss be? You reek of death. You have caused much pain and ssssuffering. You have lied before, but not now. I do not understand thisss."

It had the capacity to sense lies because it was partly made of shadow, and shadows distort reality. But fire, though it can change and destroy things, cannot lie. Therefore, it had the ability to sense truth as well.

"I have learned many things from my years of experience," LaCroix said. "If you don't believe me, go and ask your master how he intends to reward you. If he lies or argues with you or says nothing, you'll know that I am right."

"And if hissss promissses are empty, what sssshall I do then?"

"Go back to where you came from. Go to Hell. I honestly don't care."

The flames vanished. For a moment, the shadow remained, boring into the vampire with its crimson eyes. Then it disappeared, leaving LaCroix alone in the sound booth once more.

* * * * *

Part 6

At the hospital, Natalie woke up to see Nick standing over her with an apprehensive look. The world looked slightly reddish in color. She imagined what her eyes must look like glowing red. Had he brought her across? Nat's sense of smell was much sharper now. Odors that otherwise might have gone unnoticed were stronger. Then Natalie realized that she could hear her baby's heartbeat. She noticed that it was very warm in the hospital room. Didn't they have air conditioning? As a long strand of hair fell into Nat's eyes, she held up her hand to brush it away, but gasped when she saw fur and claws.

"Nick, am I dreaming?" Nat's voice was her own, yet it wasn't. It was lower and more gravelly, like Schanke's when he took on werewolf form. That explained it.

"No." He bent down and brushed her reddish-brown fur back so it wouldn't fall into her eyes. "You were given a blood transfusion. Schanke was the donor. Natalie, it was the only way. The doctor said you had about a 20% chance of survival. If I had brought you across, we'd have lost the baby."

Natalie nodded. Tears came to her eyes unexpectedly. "The baby…?"

"She's fine."

"She," Natalie breathed. "You're sure it's a girl?"

Nick nodded. "The doctor took X-rays."

"We'll have to pick a name."

"Yes. We will."

"How are Grace and Matthew doing?" she asked.

"Grace is fine. But…"

"But what, Nick?"

He took a deep breath. "I'm afraid we lost Matthew. He inhaled too much smoke. He also had some second-degree burns, which didn't help any. You and Grace are both very lucky."

She nodded. "What about the burning shadow?"

"It disappeared. Schanke checked back after your blood transfusion. No one's seen it since."

Suddenly Natalie sat up, realizing that the sun must have risen a long time ago. "Nick, what time is it?"

"7:30 AM," he answered.

"You should be home sleeping!"

"No, I should be here with you. It's all right. The nurses are all under orders not to open the window shade. Don't worry about me. You're the one who needs to rest."

"But…"

"No buts, Natalie. Rest. Okay?"

"All right."

As she closed her eyes, Nick's cell phone rang. He picked it up. "Knight."

"Nicholas, I trust you are well."

"LaCroix," he whispered. "What is it?"

"What do you know about fire elementals?"

"Not much. Why?"

"One was here at the Raven earlier. I heard on the radio a few minutes that there was a fire at the coroner's office. Perhaps the two incidents are related. Is your Natalie all right?"

"Yes. Since when do you care?"

"I sensed a great deal of happiness from you earlier tonight, followed by extreme sadness. What has happened?"

Nick hesitated for a moment. "Natalie's pregnant. The child is mine."

There was a moment of silence on the other end. "Are you certain?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, congratulations are in order. You do realize the media are going to 'make a big deal out of this', as they say? After all, you've done the impossible. You've crossed over, haven't you?"

"Not completely. The cure is only temporary."

"Oh. That's a shame," LaCroix said sarcastically. "And I suppose your dragon friends had something to do with it. What will their reaction be when you tell the news media exactly what your experimental medication really is?"

"I don't plan to tell anyone. How did you know?"

"I have my sources. 'No comment' is one of the most useful phrases in the English language, isn't it?"

"No comment," Nick replied.

"Send my best wishes to Natalie. Oh, and you might want to mark your calendar for next Wednesday. There's a full moon that night."

"How did you…?"

"Farewell, Nicholas." The line went dead.

* * * * *

Ashley Montgomery Blake stepped over the police tape blocking the entrance to the coroner's office, using a simple illusion to make the security guards believe that she wasn't there. Once inside, she followed the burnt hallways to the morgue. She reached into her pocket and took out a tiny wooden box, then opened it. The fine blue dust inside glowed as it was exposed to the light.

Meanwhile, Tracy Vetter parked her car in front of the building and got out. She flashed her badge.

"Go on in, Detective," said the first security guard, a tall man with red hair who could've passed for a quarterback on an NFL team the way he was built.

She nodded. As she entered the coroner's building, the smell of ashes gave her the creeps. Nick and Schanke had said the blaze had been started by a shadow burning like fire. It had been immune to water from a fire extinguisher. What was it? Having something like that loose in Toronto was a scary thought.

What Tracy knew about magic provided no explanation. She wondered if maybe it had been somehow brought into existence. Suddenly she heard footsteps, which was strange since no one else was supposed to be here. Maybe Schanke had also thought that there might be more clues to be found in the daylight. Silently she approached the morgue.

There was a woman inside, no one Tracy had ever seen before. She was very tall and slender. Tracy estimated that she was a size 6 or maybe an 8, and somewhere between 5'5" and 6'0". Her long blond hair flowed around her shoulders. She wore faded jeans and a solid white T-shirt. She also wore an amethyst on a silver chain. She held open a box that had a strange blue light. Maybe she'd come to destroy whatever evidence that the shadow-thing had left behind.

Tracy stepped forward. "Police, freeze!"

Ashley turned around. "It's all right. I'm on your side."

"Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"My name is Ashley Blake. I came to find out who had summoned the fire elemental."

Tracy blinked. "The what?"

"Fire elemental. It's what caused the blaze here last night."

"Are you a detective?"

"In a manner of speaking."

"I don't understand. Are you human?"

"No. What I am is not your concern."

Tracy shook her head. "You're wrong. It is my concern. I know what he was." She pointed to Julius's body, which had been destroyed by fire. The vague outline of an equine form could be seen under the sheet that covered the corpse. It was obvious to even the most casual observer that he hadn't been human. "Want to tell me what you know, or should I have you brought in for questioning?"

Without hesitation, Ashley replied, "All right, if only so that you'll let me do my job. I am a unicorn, but the reality of our existence is far different from that which is described in fairy tales. We can shape change. To survive over the years, we transformed into humans and adapted to their cultures. But we also have our own culture and laws. I am a Justice of Order and Peace. The one you see there committed many crimes, among them murder. The High Council decreed that he had to be destroyed for the sake of all who live in this city, humans and non-humans alike. I carried out his sentence."

"High Council? Is that anything like the vampires' high council?"

"We are not vampires. We don't kill others for our survival. Life is sacred and we honor it. Julius was different. He was abnormal somehow. Unicorns revere life."

"Okay. Well, would you mind telling me what fire elementals are? How are they created?"

"First of all, you don't create fire elementals. They already exist in another plane. Someone who knows the right spell can summon them. That is forbidden magic because fire elementals carry the potential for much destruction and death. If one could not be controlled, the consequences would be disastrous. Now, if you'll let me, I can find out who summoned it."

Tracy stepped back and watched as Ashley sprinkled glowing blue fairy dust over the ashes on the ground. Then the unicorn chanted. The fairy dust slowly began to swirl around in the air. Within the swirling dust appeared a face. Tracy gasped.

"Sylvain!" Ashley exclaimed. "So he's the one behind it. I should have guessed."

"Who is he? Another unicorn?"

"Yes. Come with me, Detective, if you want to solve your case."

The fairy dust stopped swirling and fell, blanketing the ground like a fine layer of snow. Ashley cast another spell, bringing a portal into existence. Then she stepped through. Tracy followed.

* * * * *

Part 7

The fire elemental returned to its master, who had been awaiting its arrival.

"Are the tasks finished?" Sylvain inquired.

"Yessss," it hissed, lying. "What do you plan to give me in return?"

"I do not have to give you anything in return. I summoned you; therefore I am your master. You will do as I say."

"The spell you used requires payment. If you withhold it, I shall exact my revenge upon you."

"Very well. If you do but one more thing for me, I'll give you all the power you could ever dream of. I want you to destroy the Justice known as Ashley Blake, so she can no longer interfere in my plans."

"Power cannot be given, only taken. The vampire was right. You lie!" It lashed out with a fan of flames just as Tracy and Ashley stepped through the portal.

Detective Vetter gasped. "Is that the fire elemental?"

"Yes. Stay back," Ashley warned.

"No!" Sylvain exclaimed. "This cannot be. I command you! Do as I say!"

But the creature hissed and let loose with another jet of flames. It was only the protective wards that Sylvain had woven around himself and the library that kept everything from burning. How much longer could he keep them up, Ashley wondered?

"Fool," she said. "You summoned an elemental without understanding the potential consequences of your actions. Those who studied magic in times past would have known that such a spell requires a sacrifice, one that is usually too much to give. That is why such magic has been forbidden. What was your connection to Julius?"

"Julius was my student," he admitted. "Apparently a worse student than I'd thought, since his mistakes brought your attention."

"What about Alistair Drake? There was fairy dust around his body," Tracy said.

"The magician? He was one of us. He actually displayed true illusions on stage," Sylvain replied. "I sent Julius to kill him because the High Council refused to punish him. You humans might have found out about us because of Drake's stupidity."

"Elemental, listen to me," Ashley said. "The High Council will deal with Sylvain Macalister. Do not destroy him."

"What about my reward?" it asked angrily.

"Which tasks did he give you? Did you finish them?"

"My tasks were to destroy Julius's body and to destroy the vampire Lucien LaCroix. I completed the first task. I did not finish the second task because the vampire spoke the truth. Had he lied, I would have returned for him."

"Very well. Sylvain, you know what is required."

"This is ridiculous! It didn't even finish the tasks."

"It finished one of them. You don't want an out-of-control fire elemental on your hands, do you?"

"No," he said.

Reaching into his pocket, he took out an ornate dagger. It had a gold hilt with several moonstones and one onyx stone. Its blade was silver. It was too ornate to be anything but decorative or ceremonial. Tracy held up her gun, wondering if he was going to use it as a weapon.

"It's all right," Ashley said. "He needs to give the elemental blood."

"Why?" she asked.

"It is a sacrifice that he must make. Without it, the elemental will become even more destructive."

Detective Vetter looked away as Sylvain used the knife to make a cut in his hand and let several drops of blood fall onto the floor. Then he stood up. The elemental hovered for a few moments while the blood evaporated.

"That's it?" Tracy asked.

"Yesss," the fire elemental hissed. "I will go now."

She breathed a sigh of relief as the creature extinguished its flames, becoming a dark shadow again. It vanished.

Ashley reached up and took the key from Sylvain's neck, then used it to lock the ancient tome. "This will be used as evidence against you when the High Council hears your case. Until then, I must place you in temporary stasis so you cannot do any harm."

He nodded and sat down behind his desk.

Tracy watched as Ashley cast yet another spell. When she was finished, Sylvain fell asleep.

"How long is he going to be like that?"

"The spell won't last more than a few days, but I'll be back to check on him before then. I'm afraid this part of the case must not be revealed, Detective Vetter. If the truth about our magic became common knowledge, humans and non-humans alike would fear us. Some might even try to steal our magic for themselves. If that knowledge ever fell into the wrong hands, it would be catastrophic."

She nodded. "You have my word."

Ashley cast the spell to bring up the portal again. "It's been fun, as they say."

"We should do this again sometime," Tracy said. She stepped through the portal and disappeared.

* * * * *

One week later…

Nick and Natalie had both taken the night off to spend a little time alone. A Frank Sinatra CD was playing "Come Fly With Me," and they were dancing. Nat felt like a klutz compared to his gracefulness. There was a full moon also, and she worried about what he was going to think when she got furry.

"What's wrong?" he asked, suddenly noticing the look in her eyes.

She looked out the window. "There's a full moon tonight, Nick."

"Yeah. So?"

"So I'm going to be furry pretty soon."

"Is that what you're worried about? Nat, I could care less if you were furry or green with purple polka dots, as long as you're all right."

"You're sure that you're fine with me being a werewolf?"

"Perfectly fine," he assured her.

As the moon rose higher, Nick floated above the ground and they continued to dance in the air. When Natalie transformed, Nick brushed the fur out of her eyes and planted a kiss on her cheek.

"Nick…"

"Ssshh," he said. "It's okay."

The strains of the music echoed into the night, and the silhouettes of their floating forms could be seen against the curtains as they danced. Whatever the future held, they would deal with it together.

The End

* * * * *

Author's Note: Shadow Fire will probably be the last story in the Schanke's Return series. That doesn't mean I'm not writing any more FK fanfic, though. It's definitely been an interesting ride. We'll see where things go in the future.
 
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