The Hand soon found themselves at the Cavern, in the building in Central Park West owned by the Clan. It was a 50 story building that had the restaurant on the ground floor, but a lobby for all those that lived in the complex. All the Clan members lived in there, but since there was only 30 or so at the time, that meant there was plenty of room for more people to move in. The restaurant ran 24 hours a day, and Karin was the night chef and in charge of all its operations. It was done in a cave-like décor, including live bats on the ceiling. The customers worried that they might do something unseemly, but they were pleasantly surprised when they found they were housebroken. What they did not realize was that they were the bats that were controlled by the vampires of the Clan living within the building. Some wondered if they violated some kind of health code, but for some reason, it never came up in the inspections, (thanks to a little mind work by Karin.) The sun was soon to be up, and Karin normally would have been handing it over to the day chef, (also a Clansman,) but her first cook was running things that night for obvious reasons. She came in and said, “How’d it go last night?”
“Gangbusters, Mrs. Usui,” he said, “We had plenty of business last night, though not as much as we would have had if the jazz trio had been playing.”
“We’ll be playing in a couple of days,” said Anjou as Yuriya was bringing up Jean-Claude’s favorite latte. Everyone began to break up, as those that did not live on the uppermost floors went to their respective apartments. However, those that did went into the back where a special elevator sat of which only they had access. It led to the top floors where the royalty lived. On the fourth highest lived the D’amphile-Makka family, above that lived the Usuis, above that was the Yoshidas, and on the top was the throne room. Anjou and Vincent had their place just below the fourth most floor.
The apartment complex was interesting in its design. Although it was entirely metal frame and glass, every panel was the kind of glass that allowed people to see out but not in. Because it was almost completely reflective, a vampire could be up in the daytime if need be, and not have the sunlight harm him. In reality it was the ultraviolet light that was harmful, but unlike undead, it did not kill them the instant it hit them. For a true vampire left out in the sun, it was tantamount to being burned at the stake—slow, long, and painful. For those that had not seen sunlight since their childhoods, it was a welcome sight. Karin could not believe it herself, and thanked Jean-Claude profusely for providing something that would allow this. She thought she would never see the sun again, and now she could. It was a tinted image, but it was better than that to which she thought she had been consigned. However, the top four floors were one apartment each, and they were the best that could be gained. Everyone had their places done to their liking. The Usuis and the Yoshidas had theirs done in combination modern and Japanese styling, while Jean-Claude had his done in a more modern style. Everyone had all the best modern conveniences, furniture, bathrooms, and recreational things. Hondo’s place also contained the gym where the Hand trained.
Both Jean-Claude and Hondo were glad that there was no phys ed classes that day so they could try to get back on that clock, and resume their fronts as respected teachers in their respective high schools. About this time, the twins and Franklin were stirring, preparing for school, and Jean-Claude was reading his Bible in the living room. Shelia saw her father sitting on the couch and ran up. He could hear her coming easily, but he just acted like he heard nothing as she leapt over the couch and glomped him. “And how’s my big, strong daddy this morning?”
He laughed and gave her a kiss, saying, “How am I always doing?”
Yuriya saw that, and said, “God, you’re as bad as Kannon with Kenta! Breakfast is ready!”
As they got up, Sheila noticed his leg, and she frowned and said, “Daddy, what happened to your pants?”
“Occupational hazard,” he said, “It wasn’t all that bad.”
“It’s rare anyone gets in on you,” said Yuriya.
“Hey, it’s better than when it first started!” said Jean-Claude, “I used to get pretty tore up when we first faced this threat. I wasn’t used to that kind of attack, and I had to adapt. Believe me, I graduated summa com lumpy!”
“That reminds me,” said Mickey, now sounding more official than his son at that moment, “How did it go?”
“House Cathong is no more,” said Jean-Claude, “It’s just too bad that Cassandra’s sister Charlotte wasn’t there. Word on the street is that she ran to the safety of House Amayah.”
“I can’t believe there is someone as evil as that running around,” said Yuriya, to which Sheila said, “Marcus Draco is just as bad, if not worse.”
Jean-Claude got to a whisper, knowing only Franklin could not hear it, for he had not yet awakened, and he said, “I cannot believe she would feed on babies. That is so disgusting!”
“They say she actually gets a sexual thrill out of it!” sniped Yuriya.
“I also cannot understand why she does not want to look older than 12,” said Mickey, “What does she think she gets out of it?”
“Protection, I think,” said Jean-Claude, “I guess in that moment of hesitation where your mind asks why you would want to hurt a little girl, she guts you.”
Sheila looked angry and said, “Ooh, just give me five minutes with that wench!”
“If all goes well,” said Jean-Claude, “You shall have your chance.”
“What happens next?” asked Yuriya.
“We get our rest, and then we start to investigate House Amayah,” said Jean-Claude, “We also have to get feelers out to House Lichen and see if we cannot win them over.”
“What about Blade?” asked Mickey.
“That one will not be that easy,” said Jean-Claude, “We have yet to find out where he’s been living, and then he still doesn’t trust us.”
“You only had that one contact,” said Sheila in response, “Maybe he’s thought about things?”
“Well, that may have been accelerated,” responded Jean-Claude, “The whole team had to jump in to pull him out of the proverbial fire. I think he has got to be very curious about us by now.”
“Speaking of fire,” said Mickey, “I caught the news on the radio as I awoke. That was a pretty spectacular blaze in that area.”
“I just hope no one was hurt in dealing with it,” worried Jean-Claude.
“Considering it was slated for demolition anyway, they just contained it and let it go,” said Mickey, “The city is actually happy that they will not have to spend the money imploding it, and only to clean it up.”
Sheila then mused, “Perhaps we could have that area bought and converted into a nice park or something?”
“You’ll have to take that up with the boss,” said Jean-Claude as he pointed up, and then things changed again, as he stopped being the loyal knight, and went back to being “daddy,” and he said, “Alright, let’s get you guys off to school, and you to Kindergarten!”
He then scooped up Franklin, who squealed with glee as he and Yuriya took him to get ready.
While all that was going on, Kenta and Karin came in, tired and ready for bed, but they had the chore of preparing someone else for school. Out of nowhere came Kannon, who screamed out, “I love my daddy!” glomped her father and planted a rain of kisses on him. He stood there as she had her legs wrapped around his waist, and arms around his neck. Karin was a bit annoyed at this little nine-year old carbon copy of her, and just how much affection she was lavishing on her father. She wondered if that was going to be an issue for which they needed to take her to therapy, but all she would say was that she just loved her daddy. She hopped down, indeed looking exactly like Karin did at that age, and she kept her cheerful face, but became a touch serious. Her stance took more of a formal position, but she still had that smile. She stood with her heels together and feet at a 45 degree angle, left hand behind her back, and the right gesturing, as she said, “So, did you guys finish them off?”
“Charlotte ran off to Amayah,” said Karin, “But essentially, Cathong is finished.”
“Well then,” she said all cheerful but authoritatively, “Get some rest and prepare for the grand finale! I’ll be talking to the others later on to see what they think should be the next step.”
For some, that attitude might have gained odd looks from some parents, but in this case, she was actually acting in an official capacity, and they had to capitulate. It was an odd arrangement: when it came to affairs of their world, they obeyed as if she was someone else, but at home, mom and dad were in charge. Kannon then said, “What about Blade?”
“That one will not be easy,” said Kenta, “He is only one out of about 8 million people we have to sift through before we can find him. He did see us in action.”
Kannon screwed up her face, and said, “Then why didn’t you speak to him then?”
“After his fight with Hans,” said Kenta, “He really wasn’t in the mood for a coffee klatch.”
“Hmm,” Kannon said, “Perhaps we should sweeten the pot for him?”
“How so?” said her mother.
“I shall ask the other three and see if we can get the council in Japan to send us two of the special pints for him and his undead friend,” said Kannon, “If we can cure them, and introduce them into our world, they, combined with us, would be an unstoppable force against evil.”
“That’s your call, honey,” said Karin, “but it’s not a bad idea. And do you know what a good idea is?”
“What’s that?” said Kannon as she brightened, becoming a nine-year old again.
“It’s you getting ready for school!” said Karin in return.
“Ooh!” she exclaimed, “You know how to kill fun!”
Her parents just looked at each other and started to playfully chase her back to her room.
Hondo came in to his beautiful and loving wife, Innocent, and planted a long kiss on her. Hondo then said, “Is she up?”
“She’ll be up in about an hour,” said Innocent, “I just wish she didn’t have to go to kindergarten.”
“It’s best she gets exposure to the world out there, honey,” said Hondo.
“It’s not that,” she said, “You know how mature she is. She alienates the other kids.”
“It’s not like that,” said Hondo, “Remember how her first month report came in? The teacher said she was a benefit to the class. She was very matronly to the other kids, especially to Franklin, and they all look up to her.”
“That’s what I mean,” she said, “They only approach her when they have a question or need help with something, and don’t play normal games with her like the other kids.”
Hondo just sighed and said, “I don’t think she is ever going to be ‘normal’, whatever that means in our world. Besides, this is Sophia we’re talking about. The spirit that was there before she was born when you were what you were is now outwardly manifesting itself. It’s like she’s becoming more and more aware of who she is. The day she remembers, then we may have to take her out and home school her, if she even needs that. Remember what James said through Anjou—she will have the wisdom of thousands of years with her, and she will be a leader. At that point, I don’t even know if we could even call her our daughter, because she will be out of our reach.”
Innocent looked at Hondo with a sad look on her face, and she said to him, “Please don’t say that. That would be like saying our little girl has a terminal illness, and the pretty, happy girl will die one day.”
“I don’t think she will ever forget who her parents were,” consoled Hondo, “Besides, it’s good it’s like this right now, because her innocent outlook to life will teach her to love those lesser than her, and she will be able to relate to people on every level as she leads. That way, she will never abuse her power, and always be benevolent to all she rules. It’s going to be all right.”
He pulled her close and held her tight. She wanted to cry, and she let loose. However, Sophia had awoken, and caught most of the conversation. Innocent then felt something hug her leg, and she said, “Mommy, I love you, and you shall always be my mommy. I’ll never go away.”
With that, Innocent broke into tears and scooped up her daughter, holding her tight. Sophia then said, “Mommy, please don’t cry. Be happy, because a good world is coming! Isn’t that what you always say?”
In the heart of slums that were in the Bronx was an old gymnasium that had been used to train young men to be boxers and to get them off the streets. That place had long since found better environs when the area just got worse and worse, and the city forgot all about them. In that building a headquarters was established by a three person army who stood against the forces of darkness. Much of the old equipment was still there, though in a state of disrepair, and Blade knew that, with a bit of touch up, he could use it to keep himself fit for the fight that was upcoming. He had to be, because this was also a part of the city where the undead liked to lurk. Crystal did not need it, because what she was caused it to be where such things were not required. He needed to because he was half human, and that was something that still needed tending to. In that part of the city lived people that, if they were killed, they would not be missed. Furthermore, because it was the way it was, the police really did not care too much about it, save maybe to catch a criminal that was trying to fade into the background of such a place. In those conditions, it was impossible to keep any kind of law and order, because everything was pretty much abandoned, but too spread out to control and keep out the homeless. In areas like this, it was impossible to keep out drug operations and meth labs, and usually was only raided when they became a problem. In a place like this, vampires hunted with abandon, because no one would miss these people. Many would have asked why the blight was not removed, but if they knew the hand behind it, they would have fled New York the first chance they got.
The households that had been there had been using money and influence to rebuild and refurbish areas like that one, and trying to clean up crime. However, it was not without an ulterior motive, and it was not necessarily to put up a good face for the public and disguise what they were. What they city did not realize was that the refurbishing was being done in such a fashion that it would push more of what they hunted into a convenient area, making it easier for them to hunt. In other words, they were herding these kinds of people that lived in that area like cattle, for to them, this was all they were—not even human, not even a sentient creature. However, Blade knew this, and turned such actions against his foe, knowing that, as they prey was easily accessed and concentrated, so were the predators, which were the ones Blade hunted. Shin was enough of a techie that he was able to tap the power lines that still ran juice through the area to power what he needed to operate and yet not be noticed on the power grid for the use of the power. The sun had just come up, and Crystal was out on a cot in the back office, while Blade was preparing to spend some time in meditation. He had learned how to discipline his mind to the point where all he needed for his brain to rest was a few hours of meditation a couple of times a day. However, he was at that point injecting himself with a serum that he had concocted that gave his body what it demanded in order to curb the thirst. Unlike Jean-Claude, because of what made him a dhampir, he still had to feed like a normal vampire; he just did not need as much. He would rather do that than hunt, and risk vamping someone out—what his world called turning someone. He knew it would take him giving someone his blood as he killed his victim, but his instincts may cause him to do just that, and he did not want to take that chance. He did not want to lose his humanity. Crystal needed it twice a day and she had to credit Blade and his serum for keeping her with a humane mind, and keeping her from losing her ability to associate with the human world that had been robbed from her.
As he was preparing to go into meditation, he saw Shin frantically going over something. “Find out anything on Amayah?” asked Blade.
“Oh, I did all that hours ago,” said Shin as he pointed to the dossier of papers for later examination, “I just need a chance to sort through them.”
“Then what are you doing?” he said, “You should be resting.”
“I know,” he said, “But I took a chance to try and find out about this Clan.”
“Did you find anything?” asked Blade, now quite curious, though sounding as serious as he always did.
“Well, I have a lead,” said Shin, “I decided to take a look at the time things started to shift for us.”
“Shift?” asked Blade, now confused, “What in the world do you mean by that?”
Shin just sighed, knowing his friend could get a one-track mind and not recall certain details at those moments. He then said, “Remember how much easier things had been becoming as we went along.”
“Yeah!” answered Blade, “So, what does that mean?”
“Well, one thing I noticed was that there was moments where certain clues were being deliberately left out for us,” responded Shin, “other times there were times where it seemed an area we were going to hit had been softened up before we got there: weapons without owners, piles of ash, signs of scuffles. It was as if someone was killing traps that had been set for us before we got there, and as if someone was leading us right to what we needed to succeed. Well, I took a look to see if there was anything unusual that started to happen three to six months before all this started. I traced things to a drastic drop in crime in Central Park and Times Square. None of the crooks could remember being attacked, but the signs had been there, but after a month, when they tried to commit another crime, the police usually found them on the ground, writhing in pain until they had been hauled away. Every time they tried to do violence in jail, it happened again. Others had missing limbs, but could not remember how they went missing, and went insane because of it. The police figured that it was vigilantes, but there was no way to trace anything, nor was there anyone who saw anything, either out of fear, or because things happened out of common sight.”
“You think it’s this Clan?” asked Blade, matter-of-factly.
“I am not sure,” said Shin, “But what I was going over and what caught my attention was a 50 story building that had been purchased and remodeled from top to bottom, including a full restaurant on the ground floor and a complete replacement of every pane of glass in the building.”
“Anyone could have done that,” said Blade, “What’s your point?”
Shin sighed again, frustrated that his normally sharp friend was not getting it. “My point is,” said Shin, now expressing his frustration, “that it was not paid for by a business or by the city. The repairs and purchase of the building was 75% paid for by one person who wished to remain anonymous. However, the cost was about $50 million. However, from what anyone knew, this independent source of funds was not hurt by the loss. The rest was paid for by those that owned the restaurant, and others that lived their, so they are all co-owners. Only a vampire could spend that kind of money and then use his influence to hide who he or she was. What makes me more suspicious is the fact that all that glass that was replaced was the kind of glass that is a two-way mirror: reflective on one side, but that can be seen out of through the other. Plus, they were designed to completely block UV.”
Now he had Blade’s attention. “When did all this happen?”
“The remodel happened about six months before the crime drop,” answered Shin, “and it was being used two months before the crime drop, and one month before things began to change for us.”
“Who owns that restaurant?” said Blade, now all serious.
He pulled out two newspaper articles; each article was dealing with different matters, but was yet connected. “The restaurant is co-owned, and one of them is here,” said Shin, as he showed an article that dealt with the opening of the new restaurant, and the picture of the owner and head chef. “Her name is Karin Makka Usui. She has European descent, but she was born and raised in Japan—hence the last names. She’s 31 years old, and got her degree from the University of Maine. She moved into New York with her engineer husband and then eight-year old daughter, Kannon, about one month before the crime drop. This coincided with the opening of the restaurant. However, look at the décor, and look at her closely.”
The restaurant was done in a theme that seemed to match the name, so Blade thought nothing of it. However, he then noticed something odd. Her mouth was open in the kind of smile that did not have one’s teeth together, and her top row was almost covered. However, her canines were noticeably longer than the average person, but not so long as to make anyone too suspicious. In other words, they were there, but seemed natural on her. Another thing to note was that, though she was 31, she did not look a day over 19. To Blade, that was not right. Then Shin handed him the other article. About the same time the restaurant opened, her sister moved into the complex with her husband—one Anjou Makka Brownlick. She seemed to affect a paler look, a Victorian image, and seemed to be more forlorn than her sister. She had landed a job as assistant conductor for the New York Symphony Orchestra, often acting as a concert master on the piano, and she was a master organist. She had a degree in composition and one in musicology, and her Psalm 119 oratorio done in a modern baroque was now being played by symphonies and orchestras across the world. She was one of the named benefactors in the remodel, and she was affluent. However, there was no way she could have been the main donor. What was also odd was the fact that she did not look like her sister. Still, she did not have any indications by that picture that she was a vampire. Yet, if she lived around them, it may have affected her kind of dress and lifestyle. Blade thought for a bid, and said, “It’s obvious that is their headquarters, but I do not think either of them are in charge. They are connected, and I am going to find out how.”
“How’s that?” asked Shin.
“I think I just might want to get some supper there,” said Blade, “Let’s see how good a chef she really is.”