Crystal arrived at the Cavern, to which Karen was all pleased to see her, and at the same time, was confused about the two large bags she held. “What’s going on?” asked Karen, all concerned.
“Let’s just say that Blade and I had some professional differences,” answered Crystal, “He can be a stubborn old mule sometimes.”
“Oh, you poor thing!” exclaimed Elda, “Let’s talk about it.”
Karin told her second in command to mind the kitchen while they went and talked. Karin got up, as did Elda, Anjou, Ai, Chiyuki, and Fumio. Yuriya had someone mind the coffee bar while she joined the klatch. She asked, “Which apartment?”
“Mine,” said Karin.
“Okay, I’ll get the coffee going while you get together,” said Yuriya as she joined the others. Crystal headed to where the elevators were, but Karin said, “Honey, it’s this way.”
When Crystal looked to the back where the others were headed, there were now a set of elevator doors where there had been none before. When she looked confused, Anjou then said, “I dropped my wards for you.”
“Wards?” asked Crystal.
“It was confusing for me at first,” said Fumio, “but she can use bats to create mind games and optical illusions to not allow you to see whatever she prevents. Believe me, she is powerful, but she had grown into such a lovely young girl. I only wish I could see you live. I mean, you will, but my time is limited.”
“Perhaps, auntie-san,” said Anjou, “perhaps.”
They headed up to Karin’s place, and Crystal was shocked at the size of the place. This and the other three “royal suites” took up an entire floor, the support beams cleverly hidden inside walls and décor. Karin’s place was done up like Innocent’s and Hondo’s: fully traditional Japanese. Yuriya went into the kitchen while the others took seats on the cushions set around the table on the floor. “So, what happened?” asked Chiyuki.
“He thinks I’ve gone over to the ‘dark side’,” answered Crystal, “He just refuses to believe that we are different than the scum he fights.”
She stopped for a second, and then she said, “Listen to me: I’m saying ‘we’ as if I’ve been with you for centuries!”
They all laughed, and Elda asked, “How has it been for you?”
“It’s great!” she said, “I feel so…well…I guess you could use the word ‘whole’ in here. I feel like I did before I was turned, and yet not so.”
Yuriya was returning with the coffee, and she joined the group as she said, “In other words, you feel like you are more in control.”
“Yeah!” Crystal exclaimed, “That would spell it out right there.”
“Isn’t it wonderful to know you can function without too much skulking around, and feel like a normal person?” asked Anjou.
“That has always been Jean-Claude’s dream,” added Fumio, “Thanks to him; I feel more part of a family, and of life.”
“He took this awkward ditz of a girl and showed her how to love herself,” said Karin, “I never thought I would become some kind of a fighter for the cause. I do owe him some thanks, or it could have been that my marriage to Kenta would never have happened.”
“That’s right, you told me he was a human,” said Crystal, “How has that worked out?”
“We have a wonderful daughter,” said Karin, “That’s all I need to know.”
“How did Jean-Claude get to be in all this?” asked Crystal.
At that, Karin and the rest of the ladies began to tell his story. After they told this, Crystal was smiling, and in tears at the same time. “It is so amazing,” she said, “Truth is, he and Blade have fought the same forces of evil, and yet, somehow, Jean-Claude ended up at peace with himself, and ended up a spiritual man to boot. If Blade only had had those kinds of people that Jean-Claude did, he would have turned out not so bitter.”
“Yes,” said Elda, “What brought him about?”
“His real name is Eric Brooks,” Crystal answered, “When his mother was a nurse, and pregnant with him, she was attacked by an undead named Deacon Frost. She tried to turn her, and put his blood into her system, but it was not enough. Instead, it went into the system of the fetus, and it caused him to genetically change. He became as you, Yuriya, and as Jean-Claude—a dhampir.”
“I never heard of that,” said Yuriya, but Elda then said, “Because the creation of undead was forbidden in our ranks, and because that world had been kept well hidden from us for all those centuries, it never really was heard of, but it can happen. It is rare, and it is a harsh way for it to happen, but there it is.”
“What else happened to the poor dear?” asked Fumio.
“He grew up poor, in the poor districts of Detroit, and as he grew, slowly but surely, the vampire side of him began to come through. He had the thirst, and he needed blood. His parents tried to smuggle as much as they could from the hospital, but that could only keep up for so long. He is like you and Jean-Claude—he has all the benefits of a vampire, and none of the weaknesses, save the Thirst. That he managed to keep down, and he uses a serum to keep himself going lest he end up losing whatever humanity he has. His mother was unfortunately turned, and he was forced to destroy her, and his father disappeared. He tried to reconcile with Blade, but Blade would not have it. He wound up on the streets, but hunted for what he was. He was found and befriended by a vampire hunter, taught to control the Thirst, taught to use his abilities, and turned into a powerful warrior. He eventually destroyed Frost and his coven when they tried to make a bid for vampiric godhood. Believe me, he may act like he has no feelings, but he has a huge heart.”
“The question is,” stated Ai, “How do we get him to lighten up and see that he could be transformed?”
“Perhaps there could be a meeting between him and Jean-Claude?” stated Chiyuki, almost with a devilish grin. She knew the prowess of Jean-Claude. Even though he believed Chiyuki to be his superior in certain departments, she cringed at the thought of trying to clash with him. However, to see a fight like that would be something else to her. What no one was seeing was the blank stare of Anjou, who said, “Perhaps a meeting is not too far off.”
They all looked at her, and Karin asked, “What are you doing, sis?”
“Blade is in Central Park right now, watching the building,” Anjou answered, “I’ve had my bats on him for some time.”
“What do we do, then?” asked Fumio.
“I’ll ask the kids,” said Anjou, “They’re up in the throne room.”
“They’re probably going over some important royal matters,” said Karin, as she looked up.
At that moment, the four, with Keelin and Franklin, (all the children in the crew at present,) were sitting around a table, intently pondering great matters, getting into each other’s mind, facing great challenges. “I’ll see that, and raise you three mint Oreos and two double stuffs,” said Kannon.
“I’ll see that, and raise you 20 skittles,” responded Keelin.
“Call,” said Kannon.
Mickey turned up the river card, and he said, “Okay, now what?”
Both girls checked, and the king of spades turned up. Kannon turned up two tens which matched a ten that came on the flop, and she stared to reach, saying, “Come to mama!”
“Not so fast,” said Keelin, as she turned up two kings, which went with the king and another ten that came on the turn. “Full house—kings over tens!” she said, as she took the pot. Kannon pouted, but Keelin said, “Momma, (Chiyuki,) taught me well!”
Normally, gambling would have been forbidden from the children of Jean-Claude, because he did not believe in it. However, he did not seem to mind as long as they kept it to Oreos and Skittles. “Alright, ante up,” said Sheila, “Kannon, you now deal, and that puts Franklin on the small blind and Keelin on the big.”
The cards were dealt as Sophia then said in her soft tones, “Do you think Eric will be out there all night?”
“More than likely, he’s casing the place,” said Mickey, “He’s trying to figure out how to get past the wards and get in here. He may be there all night and all day.”
“What do we do?” asked Franklin, “He frightens me!”
“Don’t worry,” said Keelin, “Mommy and uncle will take care of it!”
“Perhaps we should let him here and introduce ourselves,” said Sophia.
“Is that smart?” asked Kannon.
“If we get father involved, we can get him on our side,” said Sheila, “We just have to lead him up here.”
Indeed, Blade was outside the building, watching things—the comings and the goings, how security—if any—was being run, how many may be in the building at any given time, and so forth. In truth, he knew he should be looking for Amayah, but he also knew that if he got this thorn out of his flesh first, he could then go for Amayah with no worries, and he would not have to move. He would indeed act the next night, and get this over with. He was not sure how things would go with their Daywalker, but he knew he had faced some fearsome foes before, and he could beat this one as well.
At that moment, it was daytime in Japan. Marc Spector had been the guest in the house of vampires, and he was surprised at the hospitality and friendliness that they had shown him. The next day, a car pulled up to the house, and out hopped a brightly clad individual who said, “Hop in, Marc—today is going to be a great day for you!”
When he got in, the man warmly introduced himself, and then said that he was taking him to the Greater Japan Magical Society, and that they were going to give him the full scoop. Marc then said, “You know, your counterparts in the U.S. were not as open or cordial.”
“Bah!” he said, “They’re our brothers, but they kind of sold out to the government over there. They act all hush-hush about things under orders, but we hold no such obligations. However, we don’t say much here, but we are very open to anyone that wants to learn from us, and live peaceably with us. Not many would understand our way of life.”
“You make yourselves sound like vampires or werewolves,” said Marc.
“Well, we’ve had some dealings with werewolves,” said the brightly clad man, “They are our allies in some cases, but just recently, we made a deal with the vampires—true vampires—that allied us with them and the werewolf clans that are friendly with us in hopes of the Dream.”
“True vampires?” asked Marc, “What do you mean by that.”
“Ah, you don’t know the difference,” he said, “Well, to pass the time, let me explain. What you and Blade have fought over the years are really the undead. It makes them sound like movie zombies, but essentially, they are living dead that kept most of their minds intact, and have a lust for blood to keep going—far beyond any vampire. They essentially became their own species.”
“I do believe they are called Hominid Nocturnes, are they not?” asked Marc.
“That’s right,” the man answered, “But what you dealt with last night is Homo Sapiens Nocturni.”
“Wait, are you saying they are human?” asked a surprised Marc.
“Yes and no—they are like their own race,” the man answered back, “They just have their own needs, and their own abilities.”
Marc looked lost, but the man explained how the two came to be, and how both worlds managed to grow parallel to each other in the most literal sense of the word. “So you see,” said the man, “The Clan has done what they can to erase the mistakes of the past and make it a world where we, werewolves, vampires, and humans, can live together in peace, and not have to hide anymore. We have to hide lest we become exploited. The Arlington Society tried to ease in, but too soon, and now they are a pawn of the United States. Yet, even the United States government cannot say anything about it, lest many politicians lose their jobs.”
After a time, they arrived near the shrine where Karin and Kenta had been wed, and he said, “The school is not too far from here.”
They went for a time, and they finally arrived. They gave him a whole tour of the school and gave him a feel for the curriculum there. They showed him how they function, and how they worked to benefit society. They also showed him their hall of fame, and they also explained how they had been involved since the Great Bokor War, and the story of the dhampir that lead the Clan. The headmaster then said, “What you need to do is to head back to New York and contact your friend there. Tell him all you have learned here, and tell him that if he allies himself with the Clan, his goals will come that much sooner, and he can live in relative peace.”
Marc could not deny what he had seen. Knowing by how he had come to have his powers, he could not discount all that he had learned. After learning about Jean-Claude’s crime fighting ways, he wondered if he could talk him into meeting the Avengers, and maybe even joining them, or forging an alliance with them and the Clan. He thanked them for their cordiality, and as soon as he was back at the mansion, he was on the phone to Shin, hoping that he was not too late.
Shin had not yet shut systems down, but he was in a state where he could quickly shut it down and move if the need be. He just wanted to keep things up as long as he could before he had to go. It was about an hour before sunrise and bedtime for Shin when the call came in. “This has to be Marc, because no one else would have this number,” said Shin as a greeting.
“It sure is,” said Marc, “And everything went well here.”
“What did you find out,” Shin asked anxiously.
“I found out that Blade may be making a big mistake,” Marc returned.
“So what else is new?”
“Look, tell him that he needs to stand down.”
“Good luck with that one—why not just move the Empire State building while you are at it!”
“Listen: the Clan is not what you think,” said Marc, and he went on to explain what he had learned. Shin, now having another corroborating story about things, began to worry now. He said, “Look, I know Blade went to the building where he believes they are nested to case out the place. I don’t know if he is still there, because he took off his sunglasses, which act like a camera to where he is, and he will not answer me.”
“He’s in hunting mode.”
“I don’t think he’d try anything in broad daylight. I would wager sometime after sunset is what he wants.”
“Then you better try to get to him before he tries something stupid. I’m heading back to New York now, but you have to stop him.”
Later, at daytime in New York, an important baseball game was taking place at Abe Lincoln High. Jean-Claude’s team was already playoff bound, but Hondo’s team needed this win for a chance. The two coaches were known to be friends, but when it came to this, they were bitter rivals. They did not hate each other in this regard, but this was for bragging rights at the family feasts with the rest of the Clan. The game had been a struggle from the first pitch, and the score was 2 to 2 after seven innings of play. It went into the tenth with no hope of a break. Though they knew each other, they each had a different philosophy when it came to the game. Jean-Claude believed in smart play and strategy, playing small ball as much as possible. It was not spectacular play, but it won games. Hondo was also into the scientific play, but like most Japanese, he liked the long ball, and stacked his team with sluggers and consistent hitters. Jean-Claude had scraped for and moved along for those two runs, while Hondo’s had come off one mighty swat. The eleventh inning started, and the lights were on by this point. Suddenly, after loading the bases, Hondo’s big hitter smacked a grand slam that made it six to two. However, Jean-Claude’s patience paid off, in that, in his style of play, there would come a time that, if he stayed close, the other team would tire and become lax. He moved along his line up fairly well, and put across three runs. It was now six to five, and the bases were loaded with two outs. The Rail Splitters had their heavy hitter up now, and they knew that all he had to do was put one deep enough into right field to bring the tying and winning runs in. The count worked up to full, and the hitter began to hit off foul balls, looking for the right one, and trying to tire the pitcher. However, by what was planned, it was also to try to get the fielders to become more lax. Jean-Claude gave his signals, and the batter nodded. The pitch came in—a fast ball—and the batter bunted it right in the perfect spot. It was the suicide squeeze! All the fielders were flummoxed, as they had been prepared for a deep hit. It looked like a tying run at least. Yet, the battery was on the mark and the pitcher managed to flick the ball to the catcher, who then was barreled through by the base runner. After he somersaulted and came to a stop, the umpire looked at him as he reached into his glove and held up the ball. “Yer OUT!” yelled the ump, and the game was over. Hondo’s team became ecstatic, because the win put them into the playoffs. The Rail Splitters were already going, so this was nothing bad, but they still felt a little down considering how close they came to winning. Still, everyone knew it had been a great game, and everyone shook hands. Hondo said, “Now that’s what baseball is all about!”
“You’d just better be ready for the playoffs,” said Jean-Claude with a smile, and pumped his friend’s hand vigorously. At that, Innocent, Karin, Kenta, Fumio, Anjou, and Yuriya all came up. Jean-Claude said, “When did you all get here?”
“We left just as the sun went down,” said Karin, “We got here in time for the last two innings. That was a hard loss, bro!”
“That’s okay,” he said, “It was a good game anyway, and it will build some character into the boys. I can’t be mad at them—they played well. Say, where are the kids?”
“Oh, they said they had things to do,” said Yuriya.
“Well, my two know that homework is priority, so that’s no problem,” answered Jean-Claude.
“That’s odd,” said Innocent, “because Sophia had none, and I could have sworn she would come with me.”
That did seem strange, but Jean-Claude just shrugged it off and said, “Well, she probably just wanted to play with Keelin and Franklin.”
“But daddy, we’re right here,” said Franklin, and Jean-Claude was starting to put two and two together. “Oh no!” he exclaimed, “They’re not thinking…”
He grabbed his son and rushed for his car. The others took the hint and hurried as well. No one was worried about speeding, because that was almost impossible in New York, but they were going to move as fast as they could.
As this was going on, Shin was looking sharp for Blade, and headed for the Trump Tower area, having a hunch what Blade had in mind, but he could not find him. This was because, not too long after the others had left the building, Blade was sitting in the split of a tree when about four bats showed up in front of him. He was shocked to hear them speak, (which in truth were the kids speaking through them, but Blade had no knowledge of this.) “Dear Eric,” they said, using his real name, “If you really want to meet us, then all you had to do was ask. Just follow us.”
They then started to head back to the building, stopped; saw that he did not follow, and then they came back for him. “Please come,” they said, “If you have been looking for a confrontation, we gladly provide one.”
This time he followed, and headed into the Cavern.