We all stared at the empty doorway, paralyzed by what we saw. The lights inside were on, bright...shining a golden spotlight on the wreckage inside. I felt Taryn's grip on my hand grow tighter as we attempted to muster up the courage to walk inside. As much as I didn't want to see what was inside...I surprisingly took the first shaky step forward. And the others held their breaths as they came in after me.
I walked down the hallway towards the dance floor entrance. The same hallway that was always so alive in the past. Always so welcoming to us whenever we came in to blow off some steam and smile for a while. But there was no music bumping and vibrating the walls around us. Not this time. In fact, there were dents in the plaster...just the size of a human head. And the paint was splattered with splotches of quickly drying blood. I could swear that if I listened close enough, I'd still hear the painful echoes of innocent victims being torn apart like raw meat.
We could hear the groans, whimpers, and occasional screams coming from the room ahead of us. And when we entered...the scene laid out before us was beyond even our grim expectations. There were literally bodies everywhere, some still twitching and spasming in agony. Arms broken, legs bent backwards, skulls crushed, flesh ripped and shredded, blood pooling up underneath them like a warm liquid blanket. It was hard to look at, even harder to turn away.
"Jesus...." I heard Trevor whisper as he nearly stepped on a human arm that had been torn off of it's original owner. Him and Michael shared a simultaneous shiver as they walked around it, and tried to avoid getting any blood on the bottom of their sneakers.
The bar had been destroyed, the tables were split in two, and both human and vampires alike were left to suffer greatly in the middle of the floor while the few remaining men left standing tried to get folks back onto their feet and get them into some kind of 'working' condition again. I had never seen bodies limp with so much pain. So much...injury. The vampires would take three or four sleep cycles to correct even half of the physical damage done to them. And the humans...well, let's just say that the few lucky enough to be ALIVE...aren't going to have a very easy time of getting better any time soon. It was a very surreal moment, looking across that once jam packed dance floor....and now seeing only carnage and hatred in its remains.
Lights had been broken, bottles smashed, chairs and barstools hurled across the room. I could see bodies slowly roll over onto their sides as we walked by them. Their eyes were filled with tears, their lips quivering as they fought valiantly not to scream out loud from the pain. Some had their jaws broken, some had deep gashes in their faces, and others were physically twisted up in ways that looked impossible for them to hold. That's when we managed to catch a glimpse of Bernie sitting at the end of the bar, drinking whiskey out of the bottom half of a broken glass. He had a bar towel in his hand, holding it against a bleeding wound in his forehead. When he saw us standing amongst the ashes...he did NOT look happy!
"YOU!!! YOU LITTLE STREET RATS GOT A LOTTA FREAKIN' NERVE SHOWING YOUR FACES AROUND HERE!!!" He shouted, getting up to his feet.
"Bernie...what happened?" Taryn asked meekly, backing up a bit as the hulking size of the man came stomping over in our direction.
"One of you GODDAMN kids flew in here like a bat out hell and trashed my business!!! THAT'S what happened!" He screamed, a trickle of blood running down his cheek as his aggravation caused his head to swell. "I let you kids in here, I allow you to drink my booze, damn near lose my liquor license a DOZEN times, you practically 'feed' on some of my best paying customers, and this is the thanks I get! I NEVER should have let this place 'vamp out'! I was making an honest dollar without you little brats bringing me bad luck!"
"Calm down, Bernie. We didn't have anything to do with this" Dion said, hoping to keep his temper from flaring out of control for just a few minutes more. "Slow down. Tell us what happened."
"I don't KNOW what happened!" He shouted again. "One second we're partying and making moolah, the next...the whole damn place is being turned upside down by some freakin' KID with a grin on his face! I didn't even see him walk into the club. He hurt my guys at the door, comes in here spinning like a top, crashing and bashing anything and everything he can get his hands on! I'm lucky to be alive! Some of my bouncers...NOT so lucky! And my so-called 'vampire' protection didn't fare too much better, except they get to wake up with a hangover and a skinned knee tomorrow night...AND MY MEN ARE DEAD!!!!!" He hollered at us until more blood trickled down his cheek, and one of his bartenders came over to wipe it away.
"Bernie, you gotta take it easy...calm down..." The bartender said, trying to wipe the blood away with a cool wet cloth.
But Bernie smacked his hand away. "Get OUTTA here with that! And QUIT telling me to freakin' calm down! I'm NOT calming down! JUST LOOK AT THIS PLACE!!! GODDAMN KIDS!!!" He said, then turned to one of his vampire bouncers. "You get on the freakin' horn, the internet, the GODDAMN vampire network or *WHATEVER* it is you sons of bitches use to talk to each other...and you tell the Elders...that they better find some way to FIX this! NOW! YOU HEAR ME??? You tell 'em I'm PISSED, you tell 'em I'm INJURED, and you tell 'em...that if ANY of their little late night party boys want to do ANY kind of business with me, EVER AGAIN....then they better get some resources together...and FIX....MY GODDAMN....**CLUB**!!!! EVERYTHING!!! The lights, the floor, the furniture, EVERYTHING!!! JUST THE WAY IT WAS BEFORE!!! YOU GOT THAT???" He shouted at he top of his lungs. "WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT?!?!?" He screamed at Dylan suddenly, who whimpered and jumped behind Dion for safety, peeking back from over his shoulder. We heard something cracking on the other side of the room, and then turned to see the beams collapse from under the club's turntable system, sending the machine and a couple of speakers crashing to the floor. "JESUS!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING???" He yelled at the injured vampires near the scene of the crime. "GET AWAY FROM THE DJ BOOTH!!! DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING!!! JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH!!! PUT THAT DOWN!!!"
Upset and outdone, Bernie walked away from us and went to scream in the ears of anyone else who was too hurt to run away from him. The rest of us looked at each other, and then took a long look at the room around us. It was in shambles. Completely wrecked. It was like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, and we had maybe avoided the disaster by only an hour or two.
I heard a sniffle, and turned to see Jenna softly wiping tears from her eyes. "Jenna, what's the matter?" I asked.
"Max...Gyro..." She sobbed. "What if they...."
"Shit..." Dion gasped. "...Alright...everybody spread out. Let's see if we can find them in here somewhere. I'm sure they're alright."
I felt a really bad feeling welling up inside of me, and began to tremble as the thought of Max and Gyro being in the path of something this powerful ran through my mind. Were they hurt? Were they even...'alive'? I sensed an ice cold sensation to the left of me, and saw a look on Trevor's face that I had never seen before. Was it worry? Despair? I couldn't really tell, but it seemed to crawl up my arm and give me a serious chill as he tried to prepare himself for the possibility that Gyro, his first love in darkness, with all his quirks and giggles...might actually be hurt. Or worse. Trevor let go of Michael's hand instantly, and was the first to set out to one corner of the room to search the mangled mass of bodies and rubble for a sign of his favorite boy. Dion and Dylan went to another side, and Jenna reached out with her emotions, hoping to find some kind of familiar vibe that would help her locate our friends.
Taryn and I stood still for a moment in the center of the room, still completely stunned by the level of destruction all around us. With a shiver in his voice, Taryn said, "My God, Justin....what kind of a creature would do something like this?"
It was at that moment, that I looked around the room, and I began to notice little things that I didn't notice before. They were slight, and they were subtle, probably invisible to everyone else...but I could see them. And once I focused on the details of it, the sensation got stronger. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise up, as my mind began to slowly process and translate the hidden code around me. I couldn't really explain it, but I felt it. And I had to know more. "Taryn...why don't help the others look for Max and Gyro? I wanna...check something out. Ok?" He gave me a look of concern, and I leaned forward to give him a tender kiss on his lips. "I'm not going anywhere. I promise. I'm just playing a hunch, that's all." It didn't seem to ease his tension much, but he nodded and let go of my hand anyway, backing away slowly, his green eyes begging me to stay safe while we were apart from one another.
My eyes were eager...to give him that promise.
As soon as I was alone, I used whatever senses I had to examine the room around me. It was weird...such a foreign sensation. But it was there. Calling out to me like a shiny object in the dark at a distance. I moved slowly forward, feeling my instincts pulling me in one direction and then another. A frantic pattern that I walked slowly, smoothly. Trying to trace the steps. And then I saw it. A footprint. Followed by another, and another. They weren't just your average footprints, like someone tracking dirt or mud on a clean floor. No, these footprints were different. They were like....these emotional little fingerprints that my mind's eye was able to capture, and they almost played the scene out for me exactly as it happened.
I remembered Comicality telling me that every action left behind a personal signature of the person who did it. I remembered Dash at the sanctuary, being able to trace the footprints of the hunter that attacked me there, and knowing my involvement as well in the scuffle without error. And I think I was finally able to understand. Rage' had been here.
The movements were so...insane. So fast, and so brutal. I could almost 'feel' the impact of the blows as he moved quickly from one end of the room to another. At first the trail he left was erratic and unfocused. I was missing some of the pieces, as my mind hadn't yet grown accustomed to looking at the traces this way. But as more and more of the picture was filled in for me, my senses started to pick up on exactly what was going on here. I followed these invisible 'breadcrumbs' further, and began to get mental flashes of the carnage that took place.
I could see where he stood, how he moved, how much power he put into each blow. My God....he really wasn't playing around here. I saw flashes of someone's arm being broken over his shoulder. And another one having his ankle shattered with a low spinning kick. I saw vampires struggling to grab him from behind, only to be thrown off his shoulders in various directions like rag dolls. I saw scratches being dragged across a human face, and when I looked down at the ground, there was a puddle of blood that fit my vision perfectly. I turned around in a circle, further analyzing the scene little by little, not making much sense out of it at all. I couldn't really get a good picture of the person who did it....but I could tell that he was young. My age, probably. A little bit shorter than me, with a slightly skinnier frame. Hardly some big monster with rippling muscle and rock hard abs. If anything, he 'felt' almost waifish in appearance, at least in my vision he did. Like I said, the picture wasn't really a clear one. But...more than anything physical, what really came across in his movements was the anger. The fury, and the hatred...a complete lack of compassion for the suffering of others. He WANTED it to hurt! He went out of his way to put the fear of God into them before ripping them to pieces. It was a frenzy that had been suppressed for a longtime, finally unleashed in a tantrum that cut down anyone in its path. It reminded me of..of.....me.
I walked further towards the door, following the trail, and that's when I noticed something out of the ordinary. I was standing inside the club, at the edge of the dance floor...looking down the bloodstained hallway that led back outside. And something clicked. Something strange.
I stepped closer to the spot, trying to accept the images as they came to me, without altering them in any way. They seemed to swirl up all on their own as I got closer, and when I reached that one spot...I stood still.
Dion and Dylan came over to me to see what I was looking at. Dion said, "No sign of Gyro or Max. Maybe they got bored and went home. Or....or maybe they went to another club altogether." He saw me staring at the floor, and leaned over to look me in the eye. "Justin? What is it?"
I kept staring at the imprint on the floor, and I answered him. "It was a game."
"A game? What do you mean?"
I pointed to the floor. "Do you see it? Do you see the footprints?"
Dion looked down, but then looked back at me in confusion. "I don't see anything. Why? What do you see?"
I hesitated for a second, just trying to make sure that what I was seeing was really what it was. "Right here, at the entrance to the club..." I said, more to myself than to anybody else. "...The other footprints in here were light. Swift. He was moving around. But these? These are clearly defined. Steady. Stationary."
"I don't get it." Dylan said softly.
"He was playing a game. He stood right here...right here on this spot, as soon as he entered the club. He came to the back door, took out the door, beat down the guards in the hallway...and then he came right to this spot to look over the entire place. He was scanning every vampire in here. Looking for strengths, looking for for weaknesses, whatever he could find But he was watching them. Right from this spot. He wanted to hurt these people, even though he didn't know them. The only question is why?"
Trevor and Michael walked up, evidently finding no evidence of our friends either, and Taryn soon joined me. "What is he doing?" Trevor asked.
Dion hushed him. "Go on, Justin. What else do you see?"
I turned around, and began to follow the imprint while the others walked slowly behind me. "He made sure to analyze every human and vampire in the room before acting...and then....he started to make his move. Here. He walked towards the bar...and it looks like he instigated a fight there."
"Instigated? How do you know that?" Taryn asked.
"The imprint is subtle right here. He didn't throw the first punch. He must have...done something to get the guy at the bar angry first. The footprint doesn't become defensive until the other guy lashes out from his seat." I told him. "And then...he broke his arm....here." I said, pointing to another spot on the floor. I could see the action. I could hear the sickening 'snap' of bone as the elbow was destroyed and the arm bent back the wrong way. "And this is where it began. He moves quickly from this position...to someplace over....there..." I followed the steps and went further across the dance floor. "And once he made his presence known, bouncers tried to throw him out of the club. And that's when the madness started." I told them. "That's when he really let loose."
My ability to see what happened seemed to increase by the second. Like a mental muscle, it got stronger the more I worked it out, and soon it began to fill in the vision with increasingly vivid details. Especially when I gently mixed some of Jun's unshakeable focus with the extra I was already using. Things got even more visibly crisp. It was definitely 'Rage'...no doubt about that. His essence was everywhere around me. The darkness of his soul was practically dripping from the walls. It was present in everything. With short moments of Jenna's empath ability running through me at random, as it always did...it was hard not to react to the sensation of it. It sent an angry vibration up both of my arms, causing my fists to clench up, and my teeth to grind as my fangs readied themselves to drop down in an instant. It was a secondhand reaction to the fury filled residue left behind by one of the most destructive entities that I've ever encountered. And yet, even secondhand...it triggered my defensive instincts. It warned me of danger, and forced me to physically respond. It was as intriguing as it was threatening.
I kept tracing Rage's steps, and soon, everything else seemed to fade into the background. I could see the club as it was when it was hopping earlier this evening. The place was packed, the dance floor was full, the bar was busy pouring drinks by the dozen. And then...'he' entered.
No one even heard the sounds coming from the hallway leading from the back door of the club to the main floor. They didn't hear Rage kick the metal door in. They didn't hear him break both of the bouncer's arms and legs Nor did they hear him grab the other guard by his ankle, swinging him around to bash his head against the walls until he was battered unrecognizable. The music was too loud for them to notice. And when Rage entered the room, he examined everyone in the area...watching in silence. I could almost see the smirk on his lips. It was like he was glancing over a buffet of fresh meat...looking to eat his way through it all before they had a chance to run. He looked up to the balcony, then down to dance floor, then he made his way to the bar. He picked the biggest guy he could find, with the biggest group of friends with him. It was his plan to start things off with a bang. He wanted fear. He wanted chaos. He wanted anger. It was like he needed it.
He approached the stranger, and grabbed his drink from in front of him, drinking it right in front of his face. The man didn't respond at first, but I noticed that Rage still had blood on his hands from the fight at the entrance of the club. He took a hold of the big guy's shirt, and began to wipe the blood off on it. It was evidently the last straw, and the big guy stood up from his seat, his friends quick to back him up. He must have towered over Rage by nearly a full foot and a half. He wanted frustration...and he got it.
The details of the first few blows were a bit hazy. Rage was FAST! I couldn't even mentally get a lock on his movements when he really pushed himself. But I did see the broken arm. I saw him roll over the man's back and jump on two of his buds, flipping them both to the floor with ease. This action began to get attention from everyone at the bar, and as Rage kept swinging and fighting...he made sure to keep moving towards the door to keep anyone from leaving. He made a wide circle around the dance floor, picking out selected targets with short tempers...people he could get to increase the level of hostility in the air. It only took a few minutes for Rage to create the kind of hysteria that he was looking for. By the time the club's vampire security had gotten involved, everything was in an uproar. I ha never seen anything like it before. His movements were so....BRUTAL at certain points. I couldn't understand why it was only in certain spots that he decided to unleash the full fury of his madness on his attackers...but the more I focused on the details, the more clear his strategy became.
I was brought out of my trance when Taryn lightly put his hand on my shoulder. "Can you see any sign of Max? Or Gyro?"
"No...not yet. This is all still kinda new to me. But...I'm picking up some really weird vibes in here. This...this guy had absolutely no mercy on these people when he wanted them down. Most he could take out with one or two punches, easy. But...instead of leveling the place all at once and running through here in a matter of minutes, he took his time. He fought it out with as many people as he could before delivering the final strike. It's like...like he was purposely toying with them or something."
"Toying with them?" Dion asked.
"Yeah...like...right here..." I moved over to a single imprint on the floor. "This is a defensive stance. Toes pointed forward, knees and shoulders level, feet firmly planted. He was just blocking, and dodging, nothing else. And then...when he got tired of playing that game..." I noticed a hard step and a spin. "...He delivered a single kick, nearly breaking the vampire's neck. And then he moved on to somebody else." I walked further, the imprints guiding me to the right. "He shattered someone's collarbone...right here, and pushed him into the crowd while he swung around to collapse a human's ribcage. There were certain people that he didn't even bother with, but the vampires that could fight back, the ones who were strong enough to defend themselves...he singled them out. And the game began all over again."
"MAX!!!" Taryn yelled, and we all turned to see Jenna carrying a wounded Max on her shoulders. He had a giant bruise on his left cheek, a gash on the top of his head that was trickling blood, and he walked with a bit of a limp, but he was basically alright.
Jenna held him up as best as she could until Dion took some of the weight off of her shoulders and helped him over to a nearby chair to sit down. "He was underneath a pile of debris up in the balcony. I never would have found him if he had been unconscious." Thank goodness for her senses, or we might have missed him.
"Max, are you ok?" Dion asked.
He rubbed his head a bit, still trying to focus. "Not as 'ok' as I was before the 'problem child' got here, but I'll survive." He looked around at the damage. "Jesus...you know, with the lights on, the music off, and no liquor in my system...this place is a real dump."
"Dude....what happened here tonight?"
"I don't know. One second I was checking out some punk rock chick in a pair of killer high heel boots, next thing I know, this...this kid starts tearing through this place like he was the devil himself. The little fucker was headed right for me, and the last thing I remember was him giving me this decorative bruise and damn near pulling down half the ceiling on top of me." Max said, rubbing his head and wincing from the pain.
I kept getting more vibes from Rage's movements in the room. And I began to follow them again. Taryn asked Max, "What did he look like?"
"I don't know...he didn't give me much of a chance to be 'charmed' by his good looks, Taryn." He said sarcastically.
"You didn't see anything?" Jenna asked.
"He was kicking my ASS at the time, Jen! It was hardly a Kodak moment!" He said for a second, and when he noticed the others looking at him he said, "WHAT??? I don't know! He was young! He looked like some little teeny bopper cupie doll or something! He was just some baby faced brat who got the jump on me, that's all. And he was a newblood too. You could practically smell it on him." Max looked over at me. "They certainly are making you newbloods a pain in the ass these days, you know that?"
"Did you fight him?" I asked, not even turning around.
"Did I what?"
"Did you fight him? Did he get you to take a swing at him or anything?"
"Well I didn't just stand there and let him knock me down, no...."
"But you fought with him though, right? Just a little bit?"
Max was confused. "A little bit, yeah. I had every intention of smashing up that pretty face of his, but he was too damn fast for me to knock him a good one."
I didn't say anything else at first, noticing something new in the signature. Dion was watching me and asked, "What do you see, Justin?"
"I was hoping that I was wrong about this..." I said.
Max wrinkled up his forehead, "What, is the rookie seeing things now?"
"Shhh, go ahead, Justin." Jenna whispered.
"Well...I think I might have figured out why he played defense for a while before taking out his targets." I told them. "Like...right here, he fought with someone over by the bar, and it moved over to the dance floor. It's like he was giving him more room to move or something. The other vampire's signature is very strong, he was definitely a fighter. His technique was really well defined, I can see it."
"What's THAT got to do with anything?" Max asked me.
I focused on the vision a bit more, and said, "He played around with him a bit, got what he needed, and then..." I turned my head slightly, "He knocked five of his teeth out. They should be over there on the floor." I pointed without looking, and Michael and Trevor both looked down to see a scattering of bloody teeth on the ground by their feet. They immediately jerked away from them and went to go stand elsewhere. "Then he flipped him over, and stepped down on his back. The impact should have paralyzed him instantly. And a kick to his side sent him sliding across the floor...over 'there'." And when we followed the line...there he was, a vampire, missing teeth, paralyzed, being covered with a blanket and being taken away to safety where he could hopefully begin the healing process in safety.
"This is getting creepy." Dylan said softly.
"I don't get it. You said that he was 'toying' with his victims." Dion said.
"Well...remember when I said that vampire's fighting style was very unique? Well, if these imprints in the floor are correct, it appears again over there. And over there. And again over by the DJ booth. They continue on from this point."
Taryn asked me, "But...I thought you said he was paralyzed? How could he keep fighting?"
I looked into Taryn's eyes and said, "He didn't. Rage did." I think something clicked at that moment, and the others stood silent.
Max raised his hand, "Um...ok...what the hell is a 'Rage'?"
Taryn asked me, "Justin....are you sure?"
"Pretty sure, yeah." I turned to Dion, "Rage fought with him just long enough to feel out his technique...and once he had a good grasp on it...he finished him off and moved on. He did the same thing with Max, and probably every other strong vampire in the room. It's like he just....absorbed it or something."
"I thought you were the only one who could do that?" Dion replied.
"Yeah......so did I." I felt Taryn take my hand, and did my best to disconnect from the signature violence that had ripped through this place with such unrestricted brutality. I didn't like this. I didn't like this at all.
"Max...where's Gyro? Was he here when this went down?" Dion asked.
"No, the little fucker ditched me!" He said. "Rain showed up with some weird guy tonight, and the two of them got to bickering as usual, then she left to go to some other club uptown. Usually, Gyro's too busy having his own party to really worry about anybody else's, but something about their argument tonight really bugged him for some reason. I was actually kinda happy that he was so bummed out. I was thinking that it would make him easier to watch."
"Where did he go?" Taryn asked.
"Hell if I know. Probably went chasing after his big sister. I know that Rain mentioned the club's name, but I had never heard of it before. Gyro did mention that it was one of the first places he took Justin to, though. Well...besides this place, of course."
"Me?" I asked.
"Yeah. He said you two partied there once or twice. If you have any idea what he was talking about, that's probably where he is."
I couldn't really explain the sinking feeling in my stomach at that moment. But it was deep, and it was dark, and the chill that ran through me at that moment was terrifying. I only hoped that I could remember the location of the other club as well as Gyro was expecting me to. "We've gotta go!" I said out loud.
"What?" Max said.
"We've...we've gotta find him, and we've gotta find Rain....NOW! They're in danger!"
"Wait, wait...Justin...slow down. What makes you think they're in any danger?" Jenna asked.
"Because...Rage wasn't just here looking for trouble tonight." I told them. "I think......"
"...I think he was looking for ME!"