Dmitri made a swift exit from the little back-alley bar, letting the heavy steel door bang closed behind him. While he wasn't exactly running, he was moving too fast to really be considered a walk, and his stride gave the impression of someone who could easily be comfortable keeping up such a pace for quite some time without any strain. To outward appearances, he might pass for a businessman at the end of his day – his slightly rumpled blue pinstriped suit, white button-up shirt, and blue silk tie hiding the lithe and wiry build of a runner underneath. The five-o'clock shadow dusting his jaw was, perhaps, a bit thick, but only serving to enhance his looks. Then again, appearances weren't everything. Often, they weren't anything at all. Especially in Dmitri's world.
He hummed a bit as he hurried down the alley away from the bar, stuffing a wad of cash into the pocket of his pants as he fled the scene of his ill-gotten winnings. A satisfied grin teased at his lips, even as he glanced back and saw that the man he'd cheated – a fat, stupid, perfectly ordinary man that really should learn to stay away from the places Dmitri's kind frequented – seemed to have decided he wasn't worth pursuing. Probably the first wise choice the man had made all day.
Dmitri turned the corner, exiting the alley and slipping himself smoothly into the slowly dwindling evening traffic of the city. Deep blue eyes roamed endlessly, warily, as he strode along the street, blending in seamlessly with the businessmen returning home for the night from working late hours. The evening's entertainment – and procurement of funds for the next several days, easily – over with, he turned his thoughts to more serious matters.
Matters like the little issue of the haunting he'd received a call about the night before. Everything he'd dug up on it said there shouldn't be any reason for a ghost to suddenly start haunting the building. It was a new construction, on ground he was certain hadn't been re-purposed from a burial ground, and there had been no reports of deaths in the few months leading up to the haunting. Unaware of it, he nibbled on his lower lip as he considered the options for what could be causing a haunting – or a seeming haunting, at any rate – and what he was going to do about it.
He came up on his destination and stepped up onto the tiny stoop that marked the little, run-down looking shop and out of the traffic that was beginning to taper off as evening turned into night. Yanking the door open, which caused a little bell attached at the top to tinkle in what he felt was an incredibly cliché manner, Dmitri stepped into the dimly lit shop intent on gathering some supplies, and hopefully some information. He pasted an easy smile into his face, though it never quite reached his now-wary eyes, and stepped up to the dingy glass of the display case that doubled as a countertop.
“Ion, how's tricks, man?” His tone, like his smile, was casual and friendly. He may detest having to deal with the demon, but he knew enough to not let onto that little fact. Most especially not when he was more interested in what the demon knew than what he was selling. Dmitri leaned up against the display case, his arms folded on top of it, his head tilted a bit as he considered the man – or rather the appearance of a man – standing across the case from him.
The demon shrugged noncommittally, wariness plainly written in his eyes as they drifted over the sorcerer who'd wandered into his shop. “Things're fine, Dmitri,” he said, his voice low and raspy, his tone cautious. “What d'ya want? And don't try to sell me the bullshit that you're in here to buy from me. I ain't that stupid.”
Amused, Dmitri chuckled and straightened up. “Fine, fine. I want to know what you've heard about the supposed haunting up at the new nightclub on 12th and Franklin. Anything at all?” The demon took a step back, his eyes suddenly darting around wildly as though seeking an escape. Dmitri, his hand still in his pocket where he'd stuffed the cash from the bar earlier, fingered the other object in his pocket while watching Ion turn panicked.
“Uh uh. Don't do something stupid, Ion. You know I'll toast your ass without a second thought.” Despite his words, Dmitri's expression was positively pleasant. “Just tell me what you know, and I'll get out of your hair before it gets late enough for your usual clientele to start coming around. No one even needs to know I was here.”
“Fuck,” the demon said forcefully, defeat written in his very stance. Avoiding Dmitri's steady gaze, he sighed and submitted to the sorcerer. “Jesus fuck, man. Fine. Okay. Just, whatever,” he said, moving around the shabby display case to the door. Dmitri moved aside just enough to let the demon slip past him, though close enough to easily stop him if he tried to make a break for it.
Ion merely slipped the lock into place and turned the dingy little 'OPEN' sign over before he turned to face Dmitri, who was watching him partially over his shoulder now. “Word is there's some bad juju happening up at that club. Someone's trying to work some serious juice into a spell. The ghosts?” Ion hesitated, glancing around as though he was afraid someone might overhear what he was saying even now. “They ain't ghosts, y'see? They're...elementals.” The demon swallowed visibly, growing more agitated. “Serious. Shit.” Whirling suddenly, Ion jerked the lock back on the door and yanked it open. “That's really all I know. Now get out, Dmitri. The wrong people find out I told you any of this, I'm toasted anyway,” he bit out, glaring at the sorcerer.
Dmitri considered the demon for a long moment, watching him grow more agitated. Then, with a shrug, he brushed past the demon and stepped into the open doorway. He'd gotten what he was really after, and a lot of extra food for thought, besides. He could save the few items he'd planned to restock on for later, and for another, more reputable supplier, besides. He glanced back at the demon who was fidgeting by this point, anxious to be able to close the door behind the sorcerer who was never anything but trouble for him, and Dmitri let a smirk twist his lips. “Thanks, Ion. I'd say I owe you, but we both know that's not gonna happen.” Chuckling, he stepped out of the little shop and shook his head slightly as the door slammed so hard behind him that the glass rattled in the pane of it, with the muffled sound of that little bell tinkling an amusing counterpoint to the violence of the door crashing shut.
Standing on the stoop, he glanced both up and down the street as he considered his next move. Elementals were not something he had to deal with much; they took some serious power to be able to manipulate. Even summoning one took significant amounts of both power and control, and he was going to have to deal with what sounded like multiples of them. He might shrug it off as not worth the time or pittance he would get paid – letting the magician trying to wrangle them pay for his mistake with his own life did have a certain appeal, after all – except that the whole reason he'd been called in on it in the first place was that people had actually died at the club.
Shrugging his shoulders a bit to resettle his coat over his wiry frame, he lowered his head and stepped off the little shop's stoop. Dmitri turned to his right and headed on up the street, the neighborhood growing steadily more seedy and dingy with each block he strode past. By now, evening had settled fully into night. While the streets – even in this part of the city – weren't completely deserted, they did give off more of a feeling of a place where secrets whispered around every corner, where things might be done that should never see the light of day. For Dmitri, however, it was a comfortable – and even comforting – feeling; this was home.
His gaze routinely searching each shadow as he strode past them, the sorcerer hummed a bit, the hand in his pocket still fingering the familiar amulet out of long habit. He eventually came to yet another run down seeming storefront and stopped. This time, however, he walked past the stoop of the
closed up store and down a flight of steps leading to a small, easy-to-miss, unmarked pub in the basement of the building.
Dmitri pushed at the door with his shoulder, slipping into the dimly lit front room of Novak's with an easy familiarity. Deep, richly blue eyes – a feature about himself he often found troublesome when he wanted to keep a low profile, because they almost always attracted unwanted attention – roved over the few scattered patrons of the establishment warily. Then he relaxed, seeing nothing that looked – or felt – out of place, and moved further into the room to take a seat at the back corner table that all the regulars acknowledged as his place.
As he settled in, the owner – and namesake – of the little pub wandered over and pulled up a chair opposite where Dmitri sat with his back to the corner. The sorcerer nodded to the man as he sat, an appreciative smile lifting the corners of his lips when a glass of beer was placed in front of him without preamble. “Alexi, how's it goin' tonight?”
Alexi returned Dmitri's smile with one of his own, leaning back in his chair and shrugging. “Ah, y'know, same shit, different day,” he said, his voice suffused with amusement. “Caught one of the vampires trying to buy Jimmy's date tonight, if you can believe that.” Alexi huffed a soft laugh. “Had to throw her out, of course.” That was answered by a quiet laugh from the sorcerer, which made Alexi grin wider. “How about you, Mitja? You get that ghost thing figured out?”
The smile dropped from Dmitri's lips, his expression growing sober. “Maybe? No. I don't know, really,” he said, his eyes roving around the room, not even trying to disguise that he was checking to be sure no one was trying to listen in on their conversation – even though the regulars knew better than to try something so silly when these two were together. “I cornered Ion just a bit ago. He says it's not ghosts,” Dmitri said, returning his intense gaze to his companion. “Lex, he says it's elementals. Someone's trying to harness elementals. There's something serious going on up at that club.” He wasn't surprised to see the widened eyes that was Alexi's only answer to his words.
Dmitri sipped at his beer as he waited for Alexi to recover from the shock and work out whatever it was the sorcerer could see him turning over in his mind. Alexi was far more to Dmitri than just the owner of the neighborhood pub. Dmitri had known Alexi Novak since Dmitri himself was only a child. Alexi was the closest thing the sorcerer had to family. Plus, he was a skilled mage, though this was a fact few – even within their community – actually knew. In the end, he respected the knowledge Alexi often freely shared with him, and respected him as a magician and as a man.
Finally, Alexi sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face. “That's really not good. Just not good at all.” Dmitri could only nod his agreement, taking a long pull on his beer as he ran it through his mind again. “Mitja,” Alexi said, the lack of the normal calm self-assurance that usually suffused his tone startling the sorcerer a bit, “you're gonna need to be real careful with this. Or, even better, just leave it lie. Whoever this magician is will end up paying for his stupidity eventually. You know that the price of trying to mess with stuff like that is always high, and usually deadly.”
Dmitri hummed an acknowledgment to what Alexi was saying, though the stubborn set to his jaw clearly showed he didn't agree. “How many people are going to die while we wait for the price to be paid, though, Lex?” Despite his often rough demeanor, the sorcerer's voice was soft and full of concern and compassion for any past and potential victims. “You know I can't let any more innocents die.”
Alexi grunted a grudging agreement even as he shook his head ruefully. “Someday, probably soon, your particular brand of morality is going to get you killed, boy.” Despite words that might sound harsh, possibly even uncaring, to an outsider, his tone was suffused with a sort of warm pride. “Alright then, what can I do to help?”
Shrugging one shoulder, Dmitri could only shake his head in answer. He took another long pull from his bottle, finishing off the beer. Setting the bottle down a bit too hard, he winced at the clunk of glass hitting wood, his gaze automatically darting around the room to see who might have noticed. To his relief, no one appeared to be taking any notice of the pair of them, so he turned his attention back to his companion. “I don't know, Lex. Not yet, anyway. I think I need to go home and see what I can dig up, first.”
Alexi took another sip of his beer, nodding thoughtfully. “Alright. But, my library is open to you, kid. You might want to try there first. I have several books on elementals you should probably look at.” Dmitri couldn't help but grin widely at the offer. Alexi's library, he was well aware, was probably the best in the country when it came to the supernatural and occult. It was probably one of the best in the world, in truth. It filled the entirety of the basement below the pub, and was Alexi's best kept secret. It was a secret that very few people indeed were privy to. Dmitri, once again, felt a surge of gratitude that he was one of those privileged few.
Standing with a grace that was sometimes almost unearthly – at least, when he forgot to control himself – Dmitri started to move in the direction of the back stairs that led, upwards, to the apartments above the pub, and, downwards, to the tiny storeroom where the entrance to Alexi's library was hidden away. He hesitated as he moved past the mage, reaching out to rest his hand on the older man's shoulder briefly. “Thank you, Lex. I... Well, thank you,” he said, just loud enough to be heard by his friend and mentor, the depths of his gratitude reflected in his rough voice even if it wasn't completely conveyed by his simple words of thanks.
Not expecting more than the bottle raised in salute that he got from Alexi, Dmitri sauntered off to the basement for what was likely to be an all night session of research and planning.
He dug through the library for every book he could find on elementals, which turned out to be far more numerous than he'd originally suspected. Dmitri sent out a quick, silent prayer to whatever might be watching in thanks for Alexi's almost obsessive hoarding of information before setting to work. Summoning elementals, binding elementals, control of weather and climate through elementals, even things like use of elementals as enslaved assassins – all of this was covered to varying degrees in the tomes he read over throughout the night.
Alexi checked in on him off and on, probably more than he even noticed. When he was researching, not much could pull his attention away from it. Still, briefly, he felt gratitude well up for the man who was more father to him than anything else. Without Alexi, he'd have nothing. Hell, without Alexi, he figured he'd probably have been long since dead...or worse. And these were the thoughts flitting through his mind when he finally succumbed – unwillingly – to the the exhaustion pulling at him and slept.
Dreams, he hated them. He always knew he was dreaming when it happened, but that never seemed to change anything. Even when the dreams were useful, he hated them. His dreams, more than anything else at all about being nephilim, were what made him wish he was just simply human. His kind rarely dreamed at all, but nephilim dreams were, almost without exception, powerful and intense experiences when they did occur.
Nighttime. He was trying to make his way through what seemed like a maze within a warehouse. Shadows enveloped everything, making it hard to see, even for him with his enhanced vision. Dmitri could sense a malevolent awareness out there somewhere within those shadows, watching him, waiting for...something. And it was then that he realized that he wasn't hunting something, but, rather, that something was hunting him.
He could feel the watcher tracking his every move, sensing his thoughts, even. It made him draw his wings – normally invisible and undetectable in the real world because they existed on another plane of existence entirely, unless he chose otherwise, but very much visible and tangible here within this dreamworld – in tightly against his back. Anxiety flooded his body with adrenaline, speeding his heart and quickening his breath. There really wasn't much these days that scared him, but the sinister feel to the entity watching him, tracking him through this endless maze, truly terrified him.
Dmitri continued to creep through the dream-created maze, his careful footsteps echoing throughout the cavernous space. Dimly, at first, laughter drifted to him. It grew louder as he made his way through the maze, unsure of what even awaited him at the end. All he knew was that he had to reach the center, something vitally, fundamentally important was there and he had to see it for himself. Lives depending on his reaching the center of the maze. His own life depended on it.
Unaware of anything outside the dream he was trapped within, Dmitri's entire body twitched, causing a book or two scattered on the table around and under him to slip to the floor with thuds that echoed a bit within the surprisingly large area of the hidden library. If he'd been awake and aware, he would likely have let loose with a string of curses, given that most of the books were very old, very delicate, and mostly completely unique. As it was, he simply groaned, the sound muffled a bit against the open book his face was pressed against.
He'd been sure he was getting closer to the center of the maze. So sure, yet...there was no sign of an end to his flight through the twisting, misleading corridors. The stone of the walls that rose above him was cold to the touch, cold enough to make his fingers ache and his wings, where the feathers would inadvertently brush against the seamlessly stacked stones, send shivers of that cold along the sensitive vanes and rachises and into his wings themselves.
Whatever was hunting him was drawing ever closer, moving with confidence through the maze. He could, occasionally hear sounds from behind him, and even off to either side at times. Sometimes, the footfalls of a biped in common shoes, sometimes the strange scrabbling of claws or talons against the concrete flooring, and sometimes he would even swear he heard the sounds of feathers not his own beating the air nearby.
And then, he came to a dead end. There was nothing but blank stone before him, and surrounding him. The only way left to go was back the way he'd come. But, all the sounds he'd been hearing converged just around the corner, and he understood he was trapped. The nephilim gripped the twin blades he always carried up the sleeves of his coat in his fists, knuckles whitening with the force of his desperate grip. Dmitri backed himself up against the cold stone of the dead end, his startling blue eyes frantically searching the dim corridor, his wings flaring anxiously as terror overtook him.
Once more Dmitri's whole body twitched, his shoulders tightening unconsciously in reaction to the feel of his wings pressed against cold stone within his dream. A soft, broken sound fell from his lips and his hands fisted around blades held within a dream as his body instinctively prepared for a battle that was no less dangerous for it's existence within his mind instead of in the physical world.
Shadows flowed and drifted around the corner and toward him. No matter how hard he tried to focus his sight, he couldn't make out what was within the shadows. He only had the impression of things, several of them, stalking toward him with what he was certain was a deadly purpose. He gripped his blades tighter, fighting against the terror that felt like it was closing off his throat and clutching at his heart within his chest.
And then, just before the writhing shadows came within reach of his deadly blades, he felt a sensation of touch on his back, circles being rubbed against the space between where his wings met flesh. It clashed strangely with the more immediate sense of cold where his back was pressed against unyielding stone. It was then that he realized he'd heard his name somewhere in the back of his mind, muffled and so very distant, but tugging at him anyway. It was when he focused on it that everything seemed to freeze, and he felt himself yanked suddenly away.
Dmitri's eyes flew open suddenly and he jerked upright and twisted to the side, immediately becoming a deadly flurry of motion. With a thought and a flick of each wrist, blades were gripped in his previously clenched fists, one raised and ready to strike out and the other already pressed against the throat of the person who'd been behind him, touching him. Everything – every reaction and movement – since his sudden awakening had been born of pure reflex and instinct.
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