The Cup hadn't changed much over the years. Since the accident I hadn't been around a whole lot, mostly because of Julien. He had taken the loss of his daughter hard, harder than maybe even me. It was a dangerous world for a Norm to be involved in and after all the years of his family being intertwined with this business, it had caught up to them in the form of me. We had talked a few times since the accident, mostly degrading into shouting matches between the two of us. I knew he still blamed me for not protecting her, but I also think that deeper he blamed himself. Like I did.
The Cup was a three story affair. The middle floor was on ground level and looked like an average bar that acted mostly as a front for the Norms. The bodyguards out front had glamours to make their appearance look normal so nothing looked out of place. Julien kept a couple of regulars in this area to keep the right people in the right places. Upstairs was Julien's...and was Juliet's, living quarters. Downstairs is where the real action was though. Officially The Copper Cup is not technically protected territory, both walks just keep an uneasy code. Truthfully, the Cup hasn't seen a Daywalker since before I was born, but the uneasy peace between Users, Fell, and the Dark, not to mention the Church, still holds here. That's not to say that fights don't happen and things don't get bloody because it happens a lot. My own past is history of that.
I gave a nod to one of Julien's regulars as we headed for the back stairwell. His aura was flashing White and Red, probably already using his divination and mental powers to communicate downstairs. They would know I was coming. Bell stayed close to me as we headed down the stairs. I loosened one of the knives I kept tucked in my sleeve and held my aura in check, I didn't need to send the wrong signals out, things were gonna be dicey enough as it was.
We walked into the bar and headed to the counter. I could see Julien lock eyes on me instantly, the rag he was using to wipe out a glass going over and over the same area. I could pick up whispers going through the tables, probably about me being here. I mean I am not generally liked by either side even on the best of days. Being a cop to both sides of the law doesn't make you a lot of friends so most of the guys couldn't be happy to see me. It was even worse when you added in my history in this place. I knew that whatever we did, if we were going to have any chance of getting any info on the whereabouts of Serapha or who Brother Tristan was working for, we needed to talk to Julien first.
I headed straight up to the bar as Bell slinked into one of the booths by the door. Most eyes had been on me, hopefully drawing some of the attention off her. I ran a small current of Ethereal energy through me for appearances sake as I took my stool. Julien kept me locked in a stare as he walked up to my spot. If any of the supposed elf heritage still ran in his veins, it had long been bred out over the years. He was tall with close cropped black hair. He had the appearance of a man who at one time might have been a boxer, but the years and wear had not been as kind. He was still thick and muscled, but he was developing a gut. There was more salt than pepper in his hair and goatee and the age lines around his eyes had grown deeper in the years. He was wearing a pair of black work pants and faded white t-shirt with an old apron around his waist. It shocked me that he looked so old.
"Julien. It's been a long time."
He fixed me with a withering stare that would intimidate most people but I kept my eyes locked on his and my face easy.
"Alex fucking Develin. Pretty ballsy to be showin' yer face around here after all these years. You must want something pretty bad to risk coming in here again when you have so pointedly fucking avoided us for so long."
I gave a sigh and wondered how I should play this for what seemed like the thousandth time. A conversation I had replayed in my head over and over, sometimes finding myself begging him to forgive me, sometimes us taking our frustrations out on each other. I knew though that I really only had one choice right now. The bad blood between us would have to be worked out and if I got through this shit alive I was gonna stop putting it off and deal with it. For now though, I didn't have time to pour salt on any old wounds.
"Julien... Listen, I know we have a lot of shit between us. It's the job Julien and I'm in deep, so deep that everyone is in it. I know you hate me and whether you believe it or not, I hate myself too. I wake up every day and wish that I could have traded places with her, every day living with the knowledge that i failed you, that I failed her. Today though, today I need you to put this aside. I swear to you that what I am about to tell you is bigger than us. Bigger than even her. You can hate me, curse me, whatever you want but I need your help."
I think even my voiced cracked as I said that. It was never easy for me to ask for help and in the past few days, well I've been doing that a lot more than I was use to. Growing up it seemed like I was alone with my problems and after what had happened between Bell, then with Juliet and Father Mal, it always seemed like a better idea to just be alone, that way no one got to close. No one got hurt, Now I was turning to the man I had hurt worst of all.
He kept his eyes on me and I could see the machinations of his brain rolling around. He wasn't stupid. He knew what my job was and he had to have heard about what had happened over the past few days. An attack an an Ancients lair, the attack at St. Augustine's, maybe even the sprawling brawl outside of The Academy, this kind of stuff was just the sort of gossip that the Cup trafficked in. Finally, he reached under the bar and pulled out a longneck, jerked the cap off and took a long swig.
"Fuck kid. I've spent the last few years hating your fucking guts. Now you come here and ask me for help? That takes a huge fuckin' pair son. I want nothing more than to tell my boys to drag your ass outta here by the balls, but you say that your on the job and that your in so bad that you have to come for me for help. I know you. You have done nothing but fuck up your life. You wandered in here broke and alone and I took you in, having pissed off your father and your only other friend at the time, who don't you think for a fucking second I didn't notice come in with you. Then you can't even protect my daughter, fail me, yourself, and my sweet Juliet. Hell, you even failed your fucking first fucking handler when you took this fucking job."
"Your a fucking failure son. Why should I give a shit about you?"
He took another swallow of his beer as I sat there, finally breaking eye contact. I knew a part of me thought I really deserved what he had said. That I was a failure and that everything I touched turned to shit. Worse was he was probably right but I couldn't afford to wallow in pity right now. The fate of a whole helluva lot of people rested on me right now and I was tired of being that person. It was time to man the fuck up.
"Julien, everything you said is true. I don't deny one fucking bit. It doesn't change whats going on, the bigger fucking picture."
I then laid out what I knew. About Serapha and Brother Tristan, about the fact that if I didn't find the connection between the Day and the Night Walkers, the world as we know is was done. Julien listened to what I said, at first dismissively, but more attentively as I laid out the essentials. As I wrapped up the tale, he leaned back against the bar a bit and looked me over.
"If what your sayin' is true, and I think it is, you're in a pretty deep shit storm son. We all are. I'm not saying that we are even by any fucking means, but I think I can help you. If things are as bad as you say, I don't think I can afford not to. Start with Marko Andrecko, he's a former User turned Cobbler, got kicked out of the Academy a few years back for trying to tap into some Necro magic on school grounds. Word is he has been hiring up muscle for the past few weeks. He usually comes in around midnight most nights. You'll know him, he has purple hair and never travels without his work."
"Oh, and Alex. Don't think we are done with this by any fucking means, end of the world or not."
With that he turned and went back down the bar. I glanced at my watch and realized that midnight wasn't that far away. As I walked over to the booth where Bella was i thought about what Julien had said. All in all, things had gone a bit better than I had thought. Sure he hated me, but he gave me a lead, something to work with and that was more than I deserved from him. I pulled into the booth and Bella already had a beer waiting for me. I took a pull and fired up a smoke, filling her in on what Julien had told me. All that was left was the waiting.
I saw him come in, a little after midnight. He wore a black button down work shirt open to the fourth button and blue jeans. His purple hair stood on end like he had stuck his finger into an electrical socket. His face and ears were a mess of piercings and earrings and you could see tattoos on his chest and down his arms like sleeves. On either side of him lumbered two golems, creatures made from various materials and animated with the Yellow of Creationism magic, cobbled together so to speak. These two looked to be made of flesh and metal and when I shifted my Second Sight on, I could see the whirling mass of black and yellow that surrounded them both. Marko grabbed a seat with his back to the wall and pinched the waitresses ass as he ordered a round. The golems took guard on either side. Fucking Cobblers, why is this shit never easy?
I looked over at Bella as she flashed me a smile and gave her a nod. We were going to need every advantage we could get here so I steeled my sense for the coming onslaught. She stood up and unclasped the long black velour cloak she was wearing, laying it on the table. Underneath Bell was wearing a new pair of tight black breeches with leather braiding along the side that showed flashes of the pale skin of her calves, She had on a deep red blouse with a generous cut in the front, tight where it needed to be, though loose enough to give her free movement. She still had on her knee high boots and choker, along with her rings, and she had bound her hair in an ornate braid down her back, her face still framed by two long strands. She still had on her belt of pouches, as well as a simple leather messenger bag over her shoulder. I knew she still had several weapons tucked where they needed to be as well. Simply said, she looked like a knockout. Even I went flush when she released her pheromones.
Bella really tried to keep her pheromones in check most of the time. Being half-nymph half vampire, she has more control of her powers than her Mother did. Her Mom couldn't turn off her pheromones, part of the reason I thought her Dad had did what he had did to her mother. When Bell let loose though, it was hard not to be taken in. She walked over to where Marko was sitting as I eased out from my seat and worked my way across to gain a better vantage point.
We had worked out a plan. First we would try the soft approach. I really didn't want to get into a fight here if I could help it and neither did Bella. She would try to get Marko under her spell and get the info the easy way. If that didn't work, well then I come in with the stick and do it the hard way. I couldn't see what they were saying, but all eyes were on Bella as she made her way to the table and struck up a conversation. I kept my senses walled up to not get dragged in and kept my Second Sight on. I could see the Orange swirls of her inherent magic mix with the more powerful swirls of Green and Red in her aura. Bella had potential in 4 of the 7 schools of magic, one day she could be as strong as Merrin in the Academy if she wished.
I kept my Sight trained on both of them as the Yellow and Black of Marko's aura began to flirt with Bella's. On the surface Marko seemed unaware of the struggle as each aura prodded the others, Bella was stronger though. As the tendrils of her aura seeped into Marko's, Bella began shutting down his magical protection. She touched his hand and laughed as they carried on a conversation and even at this distance, i could see the want in his eyes as he stared at Bella, flush with excitement. I watched Bella smile as her aura began to slid into place, overtaking his fully. As the last vestiges of his aura began to wink out, things go like they always do for me, six kinds of shitty.
Marko was slammed with a stream of Black, Necromancy filling his aura and surrounding him in another shield like we had seen before. Fucking Conduits! I guess we do this the hard way.
End of Line.