Story by Dan Joslyn
Written by Dan Joslyn (additional writing by Gelfling21, Zahir al Daoud and CN Winters)
Directed by Dan Joslyn and CN Winters
Produced by CN Winters
Editing by DragonWriter17
Sound by CN Winters
Art Direction by Robert Kidman
Artists – Robert Kidman, Zahir al Daoud, Isis, and CN Winters
Cover Art by Robert Kidman
Mansion – Day
The room’s designer had aimed for a combination of austere and sumptuous. He had managed to combine the two with surprising success. Bone white walls, save for the one with textured brick the color of pale stone. Pattern-less aqua carpet. Simple furniture, with little or no ornamentation but constructed of the very best materials. It matched the occupant and owner, who now stood smoking a cigarette near a window. She gazed out with strained eyes.
A voice was speaking from the speaker phone on the glass coffee table. "We have managed to find another clue as to the location of ‘La Nephille’ and are working to confirm," said the man’s voice.
"Where?" said the woman, with an English accent that suggested public school. She was in her late middle age, a still-handsome lady wearing her hair short.
"Among the effects of the widow of a mob boss in New Jersey. She has disappeared."
"Let me know what you learn."
"Yes, Miss Hoffman. There is also the surveillance you wanted done?"
"Ah. Mr. Rayne?"
"Yes, he continues to experiment in the occult, but we’ve never gotten a solid location on him. He seems to be a bit of a transient. What do you advise?"
She used a drag on her cigarette to delay answering. "I am tempted—but never mind. Just give me general reports as you get them."
"As you wish, Miss Hoffman."
"I’m expecting someone," Emily Hoffman said with a glance at her watch. "We’ll continue this briefing tonight."
"Of course." A click. Followed by a dial tone. Hoffman took another long drag on her cigarette. She blinked a little too much. When there was the tiniest knock on the door, she flinched.
The door opened. A woman in her thirties entered and tried not to gape at her surroundings. Dark haired, she wore nice clothes that cost a tenth of that of her hostess.
"Catherine Madison I presume?" Emily Hoffman asked from a small cloud of cigarette smoke.
"Yes," said the younger woman.
"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Emily Hoffman, and I am a collector of fairly arcane objects. Books, artwork, artifacts both ancient and young. Certainly you can imagine the sorts of things I mean? You, of all people?" Her eyes were steady and piercing.
Catherine took this in and nodded. "I’m afraid I don’t possess anything like that myself."
"No," conceded Hoffman, "but you do have something I lack. Something with which, unfortunately, you cannot part. Nor can I receive. Talent. Or, to be more precise, power."
At this, Catherine stepped further into the room. She looked less awkward, more sure of her footing. "Yes," she said simply.
"I want to hire you."
"Why? Surely someone with your resources," she gave a vague gesture at the surroundings, "could afford to hire the very best. There’s a lot of power in my family, to be sure, but I’ve never devoted myself to it."
"And yet," Hoffman said, "your family is one of several extraordinary witch bloodlines in the world. For reasons no doubt symbolic as well as technical, there always seem to be a few at any given moment in history. Sometimes the power skips a generation or two. There are times when it peters out altogether. In that case, a new line appears. Your own abilities are at least on the same level as your mother’s, by the way."
"How did you find that out?" Catherine looked anything but happy about Hoffman’s words.
"By spending a great deal of money" was her answer. Hoffman put out her cigarette in an ashtray that looked as if it cost as much as some automobiles. "I’ve developed an interest in witch families of late. An interest that is anything but idle. One that also offers the potential of reward. Shall I continue?"
"Reward for whom?"
"If I’m right—everyone on earth. At the very least—you, personally."
Catherine considered this for a moment. "I’m listening."
Hoffman hesitated. "There is a box I acquired at auction. I have it upstairs. What precisely it contains is something I have not been able to learn. My inclinations to find out have, of late, dwindled to nothing."
"Maybe there’s nothing inside?"
"That would seem impossible," said Hoffman. "Your predecessor—another scion of a powerful witch family—was able to ascertain much about the box itself. Even the wood used to make it is special, from a grove of trees where various lei lines intersect. I have reason to believe the wood was first used to build a shrine to a Roman Catholic Saint. The hinge and clasp are from melted Church bells, tempered in blood and holy water during forging. And the box itself was blessed by a priest who suffered from stigmata and was evidently a magic user of some kind. Certainly binding spells infuse every inch of it." She raised an eyebrow. "One would think that would be enough."
By now Catherine had stopped blinking. Her mouth had set into a frown. "What’s inside?"
"Don’t know. As I said. Quite honestly, I don’t really want to know."
"Then—what do you want with me?"
Hoffman lit another cigarette before answering. "I want another layer of binding to surround the box. Something equally as powerful but of a different tradition than what holds…whatever-it-is…at bay now. Think of it as the magical equivalent of an outer wall and moat. Preferably a moat filled with ravenous piranha. And a wall with machine gun emplacements."
"You’re that afraid of someone stealing it? What makes you think it’s that valuable?"
"Ah. We seem to have something of a misunderstanding. My desire is not to keep others away, but to keep the interior of this box sealed. To further impede its contents from interacting with this world."
The other woman’s face showed her shock. Hoffman nodded grimly. "Yes, even within the bindings that contain it, the contents still manage to reach out. I know no details, but the malice of it has become undeniable. Its power—its power is something I prefer not to think on."
"You must know this has got to be some kind of dark magic," Catherine said after a minute, voice low.
"If the Catholic Church sealed this thing, why not contact them?"
"Which part of the Church? Recall that organization has included both St. Damien and Torquenada. While some priests saved Jewish children from the Holocaust, others helped Nazi war criminals to escape. Besides…I find that parting with it is not an easy thing." She took another drag on her cigarette. "Oh yes, the contents are having an impact on myself as well. Another reason I am willing to pay quite extravagantly for your efforts."
At these words, Catherine sat down. "You mentioned someone, my ‘predecessor’ you said. Who was that? Why not get their help?"
Hoffman sighed. "Mrs. Maclay is, I’m sorry to note, in the hospital. She did all in her power to learn what she could—this in return for a fund insuring her daughter’s college education. But it was not without a cost. Her health has not recovered. I fear it may never do so. Such is, evidently, one danger of prolonged exposure to the contents. Through the safeguards that surround it now, it managed over time to reach out and hurt a kind and brave woman who drew too close. Which is why I don’t want you to spend time examining the box. Rather, I want something prepared as much as possible elsewhere and then installed as rapidly as can be."
Standing, Catherine said, "I’m afraid you’ll have to find someone else."
Hoffman opened a file in front of her and scanned the page.
"It says here you have a young child, Amy. A college fund for your daughter would be the least of what I’m offering. One job and neither you nor your husband need ever work again."
"No," said Catherine, heading for the door, "it wouldn’t be worth it. I can’t do what you’re asking. I can’t!" Her hands were visibly trembling as she opened the door and left the room.
Emily Hoffman stared after her for over an hour, smoking cigarette after cigarette as the sun set and the room became dark.
Cleveland, Present Day
Shopping Area – Night
Faith wore a Harley-Davidson baseball cap low over her forehead, along with dark glasses despite the late hour. Still, she drew side-long glances from teenage passers-by.
"When I asked you if you wanted to patrol," she grumbled, "this wasn’t what I had in mind."
The sidewalks of the Crocker Park area were jammed with eighth-graders, most of whom did not have the money to buy anything at the expensive boutique stores whose false fronts rose glittering into the night sky. They seemed to be entertaining themselves with the age-old custom of "hanging out."
Kennedy, walking next to Faith, suppressed a giggle. "Hey, the forces of darkness are everywhere," she admonished. "And anyway, we have to patrol here because if we didn’t, then the monsters would come here. It’s what I like to call Kennedy’s addendum to Murphy’s Law." She glanced over at Faith. "I’m sorry, I have to ask…who are you supposed to be, anyway?"
"I’m in disguise," Faith said flatly.
"Cunning," Kennedy grinned. "Maybe it didn’t occur to you, but I’m famous, too. And being with me, people will probably recognize you… that is, if the New Britney look fooled them in the first place."
"You’re probably right," Faith said softly. Awkward silence ensued.
Kennedy finally stopped and put a hand on Faith’s shoulder. "Look, I understand that you’d rather hunt the bad guys than think about…" She trailed off under the glare of Faith’s sunglasses. "...things, but maybe you should—"
"That’s not why we’re here," Faith cut her off and then set off down the sidewalk once again.
Kennedy chased after her, dodging a particularly large group of pre-teens. "Yeah, but—"
"A woman’s husband is missing," Faith continued without looking at her. "That’s why we’re here. Family…My issues are my issues. They’ve got nothing to do with my job unless I—"
She stopped in her tracks, so suddenly that Kennedy almost fell over. "What is it?"
Faith was staring at the window display of a Barnes & Noble. Several copies of the same book were on display, sitting on stacks of still more copies. "The Book of the Year!" a sign proclaimed. "Get It Before Your Friends!"
On the front cover of the book, the title had been printed in large block letters. "Blood and Darkness: The Real Story of Superstar Slayer Faith Lehane by John Harriman."
"Hey, I didn’t know you had a biography coming out," Kennedy said with a smile.
Faith sounded like she was in shock. "Neither did I."
End of Teaser
To Act One