Underworld: Blood Enemy, page 1
Underworld - 02
(An Undead Scan v1.6)
A full moon shone down on the graveyard of history.
Statue Park—or Szoborpark, as it was known to locals—was a repository for all the immense Communist monuments that had once dominated the Hungarian capital during the long years of Soviet oppression. After the Communists were finally ousted, their imposing statuary was removed from perches throughout the city and exiled to this desolate field on the outskirts of Budapest, surrounded by red brick walls and industrial-strength power lines. Now towering figures of Marx, Lenin, Engels, and other heroes of revolution, arranged in overlapping rings, stared silently at one another, condemned to eternal obsolescence and irrelevance.
By day, Statue Park was a popular tourist attraction, luring curious hordes to gawk at the outmoded monuments. But tonight, only a few minutes short of midnight, the park was totally deserted.
Or, at least, it appeared to be.
Selene hid behind a huge bronze portrait of a flag-waving revolutionary. Her dark brown hair and glossy black trench coat blended with the shadows cast by the lambent moon as she kept careful watch over the park below. A pair of matching Berettas were holstered beneath her coat, and her slender fingers gripped an expensive night-vision camera. She waited impatiently for an opportunity to use both the camera and the guns.
Especially the guns.
She paid no heed to the monuments looming around her, whose historical significance meant little to her. The Cold War may have ended, but her own war continued, just as it had for the better part of a thousand years. A shadow war fought by immortal creatures of the night, vampires versus werewolves.
Soon, she thought. Tonight’s prey had not yet arrived, but if her informants were to be believed, it would not be much longer now. Let’s hope our intel is correct. She ran her tongue over her fangs in anticipation of the hunt to come. Beneath her oiled black leathers, her lithe body was tensed for action. I haven’t killed a lycan in weeks….
As a Death Dealer, a member of an elite corps of vampire warriors, Selene was sworn to the destruction of her people’s ancient foes. For centuries, she had known no other calling—nor had she desired any.
She glanced across the empty park, checking to see if her partner was in place. Directly opposite her, on the other side of the park, a large granite bust of a forgotten Communist leader looked out over the gravel pathways winding around the collected monuments. Selene could not see Diego lurking behind the mammoth bust, so she raised her hand to signal him. Her smooth white fingers glowed like polished ivory in the moonlight.
An answering wave greeted her from across the way.
Good, she thought, lowering her hand. Everything was in order. A cool summer breeze blew toward the rear of the park, carrying the scent of the two Death Dealers away from the front gate. With luck, the lycans would never know she and Diego were there, until it was too late. As long as the wind doesn’t shift, that is.
The sound of an approaching car sent her pulse racing. She ducked behind the bronze revolutionary, pressing her face and body against the cold metal as though to merge completely with the shadows draping the sheltering statue. Her own Jaguar was discreetly parked several blocks away in the adjacent housing complex.
A mud-spattered gray van stopped in front of the park, which was marked by a classical brick facade. Selene watched as the van disgorged a trio of shadowy figures, who furtively entered the park by means of an inconspicuous side door next to the main gate.
The trio consisted of two men and one woman, with feral eyes and sullen expressions. Their shabby brown leather jackets looked cheaper and grungier than Selene’s own sleek black leathers. Typical lycan scum, she thought, studying the three intruders through the high-powered lens of her camera. Their human appearance did not deceive her. She knew lycanthropes when she saw them.
The mere sight of the creatures enraged her, and she had to fight the temptation to draw her Berettas and start filling the unsuspecting lycans with red-hot silver. Even after hundreds of years, her hatred of the loathsome beasts burned as fiercely as ever. The sooner they were all exterminated, the better.
But not just yet, she reminded herself. Tonight’s primary objective was reconnaissance: to find out what the lycans were up to and perhaps even trail them back to their secret lair. Once she and Diego discovered where the entire pack was hiding, they could lead a squadron of Death Dealers in to clean out the den completely—but only if she could be patient. I have to let these three live—for now—if I want to kill them all later on.
That didn’t make holding her fire any easier.
The three lycans reached the center of the park, a small island of grass surrounded by gravel, and looked around suspiciously. “Where is he?” the woman asked. Her greasy blond hair looked as if it hadn’t seen a comb in weeks.
“He’ll be here,” one of the men said gruffly. From his tone and posture, Selene guessed he was the alpha male. A muscular black man with a shaven skull, he had possibly the deepest voice she had ever heard. His right hand gripped the handle of a scuffed leather briefcase. “Just be ready.”
“You bet,” the second male said. Spiky black hair, Caucasian features, and a slighter build distinguished him from his leader. A gold tooth glittered in the moonlight.
He and the female drew automatic pistols from beneath their jackets, while the bald lycan rested his briefcase on the ground beside his boots. Wary eyes scanned the moonlit park, forcing Selene to retreat farther behind the tarnished bronze proletarian.
The female Death Dealer silently cursed the glowing orb overhead. The full moon posed a double threat to her; not only did it increase her risk of exposure, but it also meant that her lycan targets were at their most dangerous. It was surely no coincidence that the lycans had chosen tonight of all nights to venture out into the open.
If the wind shifted, Selene understood, things could get hairy, in more ways than one.
The sound of a second vehicle approaching distracted the lycans from their relentless scrutiny of their surroundings, much to Selene’s relief. She swung her camera toward the parking lot, where a gleaming black limousine had pulled up in front of the gate. Four passengers emerged from the limo.
The new arrivals turned out to be a middle-aged human male accompanied by three thuggish bodyguards. Selene recognized the older man as Leonid Florescu, a well-known arms dealer. A stout man in an expensive silk suit, Florescu had ruddy skin and slicked-back silver hair. His well-groomed appearance stood in marked contrast to the scruffy attire of the waiting lycans, not to mention that of his own hulking bodyguards.
Leonid himself, right on schedule, Selene thought with satisfaction. She made sure to get a good shot of the mortal’s florid countenance. Seems my informant knew what she was talking about….
Florescu and his goons joined the three lycans at the center of the park. Facing off in the moonlight, the two parties exchanged intimidating glares and scowls. Florescu’s men drew their own guns in imitation of the armed lycans.
The alpha-male lycan did not waste time with small talk. “Do you have the sample?” he demanded. His basso profundo voice echoed in the stillness of the night.
“Of course,” Florescu replied. Despite his confident tone, Selene detected a note of trepidation in his voice. She didn’t blame him; bodyguards or not, any one of the lycans could easily reduce him to a midnight snack. “I’m a professional.”
He snapped his fingers and one of his men stepped forward, bearing a large metal case. Florescu opened the case and removed an Uzi submachine gun.
Ever the salesman, Florescu rattled off specs while his potential customer inspected the merchandise. “Muzzle velocity four hundred meters per second; effective range two hundred meters; rate of fire six hundred rpm.” He glanced nervously at his watch, as though anxious to conclude the encounter. “Strictly top-of-the-line quality. Only the best, I assure you.”
Lowering the weapon, the lycan leader grunted in satisfaction. “We’ll take fifty,” he announced, handing the Uzi off to one of his scruffy associates, “plus a thousand rounds of ammo.” He lifted the briefcase from the ground and opened it in front of Florescu. Selene glimpsed stacks of multicolored bills, mostly euros and American dollars. “A down payment,” the lycan said, “as discussed.”
To Selene’s surprise, Florescu didn’t even bother to count the cash. “Excellent,” he declared, hastily accepting the briefcase. His gaze darted toward his waiting limo. “As always, a pleasure doing business with you.”
So that’s where the lycans have been getting their ordnance, Selene thought, feeling a surge of vindication. She had long suspected Florescu of supplying the lycans, but now she had definitive proof to present to Kraven back at the mansion. There’s no way he can dismiss my evidence this time.
Ironically, Florescu was also the primary source for most of the coven’s weapons and ammunition. In other words, he’d been providing firepower for both sides in the war. I think someone’s going to have to have a firm talk with Mr. Florescu, Selene thought coldly. If not Kraven, then maybe me.
For now, however, she was content to let the greedy arms dealer depart with his ill-gotten lucre. The lycans were her chosen prey tonight. Now that they had concluded their business with Florescu, perhaps they would lead her back to their lair. Selene waited expectantly to see what the three lycans would do next.
Then, just as Florescu and his guards pulled away in their limo, the breeze shifted direction, leaving Diego upwind of the lycans. They immediately reacted to his scent. Eyes wide, they lifted their chins and sniffed the air. Three deceptively human-looking heads turned toward the massive granite bust hiding Diego. “I smell a blood!” the dark-skinned lycan snarled.
Damn! Selene thought, only half disappointed that their cover had been blown. She thrust her camera into the pocket of her jacket and reached for her Berettas. Looks like I get to slaughter some lycans tonight after all.
Before she could draw her weapons, however, a shiny metal object came flying through the air from the rear of the park. The lemon-shaped projectile caught a glint of moonlight before plummeting to the ground right where the three lycans were standing. It exploded on impact, unleashing a sudden blast of heat and noise.
Selene dived behind the concrete base of the statue. Her ears rang from the explosion, and the smell of gunpowder filled her nostrils. A grenade, she realized instantly. But who…? The bomb had not come from either her or Diego, that was for certain. One of Florescu’s people, doubling back behind the park?
Lifting her head, she peered over the top of the concrete base at the aftermath of the explosion. Smoke and dust clouded the air, but she could see the three lycans lying sprawled on the ground around a smoking crater. Their blood, foul and toxic, stained the gravel pathway, while they groaned and whimpered in pain, not yet dead but clearly injured.
Jagged shards of shrapnel jutted from their bleeding bodies. Steam rose where the metal fragments pierced their flesh. Selene recognized the characteristic gleam of silver.
Good, she thought. As long as the silver fragments remained embedded in their flesh, the lycans were trapped in their human guise, leaving them all the more vulnerable to Selene, Diego, and whoever had hurled the grenade in the first place.
Tearing her gaze away from the intoxicating sight of the wounded lycans, Selene turned her eyes toward the rear of the park, searching for the origin of the mysterious grenade. A flicker of movement caused her to zero in on an impressive sculpture depicting a couple of dozen life-sized Soviet soldiers charging triumphantly into the future, rifles and bayonets at the ready.
Before Selene’s startled eyes, one of the uniformed figures detached itself from its fellows and hopped onto the ground in front of the sculpture. That’s no statue, she gasped. That’s a person in a spray-painted mask and uniform. She couldn’t help admiring the ingenuity; chances were, the camouflaged stranger had been hiding in plain sight all this time.
Who in the world…?
Selene was reluctant to expose herself before determining the stranger’s intentions. Just because the grenade thrower had attacked the lycans didn’t necessarily mean that he or she was an ally. As far as Selene knew, there were only two sides in this war, but what if she were mistaken?
She started to signal Diego to stay down, only to see the masked stranger produce another grenade from beneath its painted uniform. At first, she thought the assailant intended to finish the writhing lycans off, but, to her horror, the anonymous figure hurled the grenade directly at Diego.
No! Selene thought, her brown eyes wide with shock.
The second grenade blew the massive bust apart. Broken chunks of granite went flying into the air, along with the flailing body of Diego. Her fellow Death Dealer, his face and leathers scorched by the heat of the explosion, crashed to earth only a few feet away from his lycan enemies.
Was he still alive? Selene had no time to find out, as a third grenade came flying straight toward her hiding place. She threw herself away from the doomed sculpture, somersaulting across the ground before rolling back onto her feet again several meters away.
The grenade went off right behind her, the shock wave propelling her through the smoky air. She fired wildly in the direction of the masked stranger before plunging face-first into the gravel.
The crash landing left Selene stunned and breathless. Her face stung from numerous small cuts and abrasions. She tasted blood on her lips and realized it was her own. The metallic tang made her mouth water. Her chestnut-colored eyes turned a luminous blue, revealing her immortal nature.
A stabbing pain in her right side caused her to hiss in agony. Blinking the grit from her eyes, she discovered a razor-sharp piece of silver embedded in her hip. Cool undead blood streamed from the wound, pooling on the gravel beneath her. “Dammit,” she cursed at the sight of the injury. The silver was not poison to her, as it was to the lycans, but it still hurt like hell.
Looking up from the ground, she saw the intruder shed its faux-sculpted army jacket, revealing a suit of Kevlar body armor and a flamethrower strapped to its back. Selene stared in shock as a stream of incandescent fire was unleashed and swept the area before the stranger, igniting everything in its path. The bright orange flames lit up the night.
Selene could feel the heat of the flames upon her skin as the intruder marched toward her. Scrambling to her feet, she darted behind the nearest convenient monument, which consisted of two enormous bronze hands cupped around a polished marble globe that presumably symbolized the world or something like that. Selene was less concerned with deciphering the sculptures meaning than with putting something large and heavy between her and the advancing flamethrower.
There weren’t a lot of things in the world that could kill a vampire for good, but fire was one of them.
Striding across the park, the murderous attacker turned the flamethrower on its previous victims. The blond lycan female went first, her fallen body igniting into a living bonfire. A howl of pain—half human, half wolfen—erupted from the burning lycan, who thrashed wildly on the ground as the flames consumed her. Melted silver flowed across her body like molten lava.
Selene almost felt sorry for the lycan bitch.
The spiky-haired male was next, his anguished howls supplanting the female’s as her blazing form fell still and silent, except
The intruder then turned toward Diego, and Selene realized that her fallen comrade was next in line to be cremated. “Leave him alone!” she shouted angrily. Peering out between the upraised palms of the giant metal hands, she fired at the stranger in a desperate attempt to keep the flame-throwing killer away from Diego. Pain and blood loss left her dizzy, however, while the spreading smoke and flames interfered with her aim. A few lucky shots bounced off the mysterious assailant’s Kevlar body armor, but most of her frantic shots went wild. Crouched behind the cupped steel hands, the blood-slick shard of silver jabbing into her side, she could only watch in dismay as the flamethrower’s blazing spray found Diego.
It happened in a heartbeat, as though the stricken Death Dealer had been caught in the noonday sun. Selene had known and fought beside Diego for more than one hundred seventy years, but his screams were unrecognizable. Immortal flesh burned like kindling.
“Bastard!” Selene yelled at the masked stranger, firing away with her Beretta despite the shakiness of her aim. Even though she knew it was too late to save Diego, she couldn’t stop squeezing the trigger. She didn’t care if the killer were human or lycan; she wanted him or her dead.
The screams and gunshots roused the last surviving lycan, the black male with the shaved head. His dark eyes quickly taking in the situation, he stumbled to his feet and began loping toward the exit and his waiting van. He grunted through clenched teeth as he staggered across the park, leaving a trail of sticky red blood.
The intruder hurried after the fleeing lycan, swinging the flamethrower toward him, only to be distracted by a hail of gunfire from Selene. Silver bullets sparked where they glanced off the aggressor’s armor, and the killer, perhaps realizing that Selene posed the greater threat, switched gears and came after the gun-wielding female vampire instead.
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