Fifteen minutes later, we were parking in the Grand Lake Heroes’ League’s visible headquarters, having taken the underground tunnel from the regular HQ in my van. “We” in this case meant Haley, Camille, Vaughn and me. We’d chosen the group based on the fact that we all lived in the biggest dorm on campus, making it easy to meet up.
“Why is this guy even here?” Vaughn asked as he stepped out of the van’s side door. He wore one of the new costumes I’d designed, but he’d set it to be replacement for his original costume. It looked like black leather, but didn’t have the straps that had made me compare his first costume to bondage gear.
“I don’t know,” I said, crossing in front of the van. “I’m betting that it’s got something to do with The Thing That Eats because the timing is too coincidental.”
“That’s what I was thinking.” Haley stepped out of the right side of the van.
Nodding, I stood next to Haley, waiting as Camille followed Vaughn out. I added, “It still doesn’t make any sense that he’d know. Agent Lim was going to tell people who could handle the problem, and he doesn’t seem qualified.”
Haley looked up at me. “He is magical, though. That knife he’s got heals the wound if it decides you deserve to live, right Vaughn?”
Vaughn stopped next to us, his face blank. “Yeah. That’s about right. The jerk. You want to talk overreaction to my grandfather? That guy was the worst.”
Camille stared at him. “Are you saying he stabbed you?”
Vaughn laughed. “Oh yeah, you weren’t there for that. Well, on the night we took the Mayor down, Vengeance managed to get me alone and test me with the knife. He was afraid I was a new version of my grandfather or something.”
Giving a small shake of his head, Vaughn added, “So, don’t trust him, okay?”
“Knowing that?” Camille’s lip curled as if she smelled something bad. “Never.”
We walked up the concrete steps into the main room of the visible headquarters. Just as it had the last time I’d seen it, the interior design struck me as “high-end hipster”—crimson carpet, black chairs and tables, and gray concrete walls. One way mirrors made of transparent aluminum acted as the external walls and windows.
Vengeance and the Hangmen stood outside. They looked much as I remembered them. Vengeance was a middle-aged white guy with a beard that went to the middle of his chest, a white t-shirt that was tight enough to show off his muscles, a rifle on his back, knife and pistol on his belt, and a leathery bit of flesh that might have been an ear on a string around his neck.
The Hangmen wore blue jeans, ragged button down shirts, and a hangman’s noose around each of their necks. There were four of them, all of them gray-skinned. Bearing in mind that they were zombies, that wasn’t so strange.
If I remembered correctly, there was one more than the last time we’d met. Weird. Where did a person recruit extra zombies?
Maybe there was rental service.
I walked up to the front door. Made of mirrors and a metal frame, it left no hint that we were behind it, but we had Vengeance and the Hangmen’s attention the moment I opened it.
“No zombies,” I said. “They stay outside.”
Vengeance grunted. “You prejudiced against Undead-Americans?”
Opening the door wider, I repeated, “No zombies. We’re not negotiating on this one.”
He stepped inside. The zombies stayed outside, staring into the night.
Vengeance gave the room a quick once over. “Looks like a coffee shop.” He grinned. “I don’t suppose you’ve got coffee?”
I led him to the table that Haley and Camille sat at. Vaughn stood next to the wall about five feet back. “We’ve got a Keurig. Do you really want coffee?”
“Nah. I was making a joke.”
“You’re a comedian,” Vaughn said. “You want to tell us why you’re here? And by the way, if you do plan to stab anybody, remember that I’m better at fighting than I used to be.”
Vengeance raised his hands in the air, palms up. “I’m sorry about that. In my position, you can’t be too careful. I had it on good authority to watch out for Red Lightning’s descendants. Turns out that you’re no danger for now. Guess it’ll be someone else.”
Eying Vaughn, Vengeance added, “Had to be done.”
Vaughn stared at him. “Are you kidding? You could have killed me.”
Vengeance met his gaze. “I have responsibilities. I’m not here for myself. I’m here as the Champion of North American wizardry. The lords and ladies of the Council have sent me to inform you that you’ve loosed a creature of great supernatural evil on this continent. Hence, they have taken the unusual step of creating a magical quarantine of this city and the smaller towns around it.
“Nothing magical will be able to go in or out. This includes supernatural creatures and sorcerers, including and especially those that use blood magic. Further, the Council requests that you stay out of the way of its representatives, including me, but not only me.”