Grim Hallows stalked silently through the thick shadows. He moved with the lithe grace of a jungle cat hunting its prey, slipping along the sidewalk and wearing the darkness like his cloak. His blue eyes seemed to glow from within as he peered out into the streets. Despite his medium height, Grim was imposing when he strode into a room, and people often remembered him being much taller than he was. He was built like a warrior of old, with enormous power packed into a cut figure, and he carried with him a polished steel hand-and-a-half sword. He was always clad in black or gray tunics, and he wore a long black cloak that billowed some when he walked. His appearance was stern, his vibe dangerous. He was a man of power. Tonight, he was putting his power to use.
Crouching beside a corner, Grim paused and sniffed the air. He had been following a lingering odor in the night, but now he had lost it. Backtracking, Grim quickly picked up the trail again. It was faint, probably an hour old, and he had to pause frequently to stay with it. It was a sour scent, the scent of dead leaves that have started to rot, and it was quite out of place in Chicago’s mid-night streets. Grim was familiar with this scent, though. His pulse started to beat faster as he thought about what was to come. This was what he did, this was what he was. It was all because of this scent and the beast that had left it behind.
Slinking in and out of seedy alleys, across dim streets, and under abandoned overpasses, Grim pursued his quarry. He was gaining, he could tell, and he itched to hurry along. His pace quickened to a stealthy trot, still far too slow for his taste yet almost too fast for his work, and his ears pricked up as he listened for any sound of his target. There was nothing. The sleeping city resting around him gave no notice to Grim as he passed silently through it, though Grim gave all of his attention to it. He was no novice to be lulled into a false sense of security by the seemly stale scent in the air. His quarry could easily have doubled back and could be lying in wait for him. The only way to stay alive in Grim’s line of work was to stay alert. He was not going to let this one get away.
The smell of rotten leaves grew ever stronger as Grim went on. Slowly filling the air, it seeped into everything in the streets, muddling the trail until Grim could scarcely follow it. He didn’t mind. He knew that his foe was near, and he knew that to hurry would be to risk his own life, as well as the lives of the other people in the city. His mission was dire, and he didn’t dare fail. Creeping slowly onward, Grim drew his sword.
Suddenly, out of the shadows across the street charged his foe. Pounding across the road, the hulking sewer monster lunged toward Grim. Whirling quickly away, Grim dodged and danced backward as the monster pursued. Ducking the beast’s massive hands, Grim looked for an opening. His heart was racing, but he didn’t rush his work. He had one chance to strike a fatal blow, and he would not waste his opening.
‘Round and ‘round the two spun, the beast always advancing with its club-like fists and savage, snarling muzzle, Grim always retreating with his sword between the monster and him. Stepping faster, Grim put another three feet between himself and the monster, coaxing it into a fatal error. Gleefully, the beast accepted, lunging forward with its right hand rushing out to catch Grim in its crushing grip. Like lightning Grim was around to the side, plunging his sword under the beast’s arm, deep, deep into its chest. The monster’s howl was cut off as Grim’s sword tore through its lung and into its heart. For a moment, they stood there, the monster and Grim, frozen in motion. Grim’s body was taut with the effort of forcing his weapon into the beast, the monster caught in a dripping snarl, reaching for its victim. Its blood shone wetly in the yellow streetlight as it flowed over the blade of Grim’s sword. Then, the moment was gone, Grim slid out his sword, the monster crashed to the ground, the blood flicked onto the street and was hidden in the shadows. It was over.
Standing over the monster, Grim was still. He didn’t believe that there were any more demons in the shadows, but he wanted to be sure. He listened to the stillness, watched the darkness, and sniffed the heavy air. There was nothing. Satisfied that he was alone, Grim inspected his kill. This was, without doubt, Leadhall, the elusive monster that had been terrorizing the fifth district for almost 12 months. It had killed four of Grim’s fellow Slayers, all veterans of the Order, as well as some hundred people of the city. It was Grim’s first kill in this city, and he was proud of it.
With a quick, powerful slash, Grim severed the beast’s arm. Perhaps it was not essential that he did so, but the Order required proof of a kill. Kill Confirmation, they called it. The rest of the corpse was useless, so Grim left it where it fell, crumpled in the street. Casting a quick glance around, Grim wondered if anyone would find the body. By morning, he knew, it would steam away, leaving no trace of the terrible form before him now. That was why only the Order knew about the monsters. With that in mind, Grim took up the arm and started off for the headquarters of the Order to deliver his prize before it, too, steamed away.
Two days later, the last of Leadhall’s victims made the news. The worst part of the job, Grim thought to himself, was the bodies. The monsters never ate their victims, they killed purely for sport. The mangled corpses of the victims were always a sobering sight for Grim. This one was a young man, killed in Leadhall’s hunting grounds on the very night that Grim had taken care of Leadhall. The old thoughts flooded back into Grim’s mind as he absently flipped open his Order ID badge. If only I had gotten there sooner. If I had tracked him faster. If I had found him the day before, if I had known, if I had done better, all of the “if”s spiraled through his mind, glittering in his head the way his badge glittered in his hand. He knew there was no use in wondering what might have been. It wasn’t, and he would just have to accept it. He saved countless lives with each kill he made, and, though none of those people would know it, they all had him to thank for each breath they took. But still, it wasn’t quite enough, because even if he had been fast enough for all of those people, he hadn’t been fast enough for that one.
Grim rose from his seat, flipping his badge closed, just as his comms unit beeped, sounding inside his head.
“We got another one for you, Hallows.”
The voice of his commander was gruff, matching the commander himself, and always a little too loud for Grim’s taste. Not that the commander cared.
“Alright, give it to me.” Grim responded.
“Level three alley goblin, working in district 8, seven known victims, last reported sighting was down by the airport.”
“Right. Is that all?” He asked.
“That’s all. Oh, and Hallows,” the commander added, just as the comm was about to end. “Good job with Leadhall. You saved a lot of people that night.”
It’s like he read my mind, Grim thought.
“Yes, sir, I suppose so.”
“There is no “suppose” about it.” The commander said firmly. “You did a good thing. Nobody could have done it better.”
Grim was silent for a moment. He didn’t feel like he had done well. He felt like he could have done better, acted faster.
The commander’s voice broke through his thoughts.
“Don’t you think like that, Hallows.” The commander reprimanded him. “I know you’re thinking that you didn’t act fast enough, but you stop that right now. You did everything you could, and you did it well. The Order is proud of you, so you just get out there and do your job. No lingering on ‘what if’s, you hear me?”
“Yes, sir.” Grim answered halfheartedly. “Level three alley goblin, district 8, 7 victims, down by the airport. Consider it done.”
The comm clicked off, and Grim’s flat was once more quiet. Shrugging on his cloak and shaking the thoughts of Leadhall from his mind, Grim lifted his head high and strode out the door. He had a job to do.
Tory Brant paced the sidewalk, the layer of grit that seemed to cover the entire city crunching softly beneath her shoes. She just could not get a handle on this case. As one of the best homicide detectives on the entire Chicago police force, she had seen many murders, all of them sad, most of them terrible, many of them sickening, but this one felt different somehow. Looking over at the body in the street, forensics guys hovering around it like flies, Tory cracked her knuckles, a bad habit she had when she was thinking. Things on this one just did not add up. The young man before her was a nobody. He had no enemies, he worked at a fast food joint a few streets down, he was not married, was not dating, had no car, did not throw loud parties, did not owe anybody money… he didn’t even have valuables in his apartment. There was absolutely no motive for his murder. Not even were there no obvious motives, or no clear motives, or no reasonable motives, there were no motives period. Either he was the first victim of a new serial killer, or Tory was missing something.
“Well?” Tory prompted the coroner. “What happened to him?”
She was down in the morgue with Dr. Tarbane, the smell of antiseptic stinging her nose as she stood somewhat impatiently in the chill room.
“Well, he was stabbed through the heart with some kind of double-edged weapon, probably a sword.” The doctor told her. He did not seem any more enthusiastic about her presence than she was.
“So what happened to his arm?” She asked.
“It was removed postmortem. Whoever removed it likely used the same weapon. There is strafing on the bone, which suggests that it was not one clean swipe, probably two or three hacks.” He mimed the motion, standing beside the corpse’s head and holding the imaginary arm in his left hand as he swung with his right.
“Right. Were there any other injuries?”
The coroner shook his head. “No. In fact, there is nothing at all unusual about the body other than the stab wound and the severed arm. I’d say that he never saw this coming.”
“Great. Call me if you find anything else.” Tory couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Back at her desk, surrounded by the smell of paper and coffee, Tory felt much more at home as she poured over the forensics reports. Naturally, there hadn’t been time to do any analysis yet, but Tory read and reread the file anyway. Blood spatter, foot-prints, and especially the crime-scene photos. She wanted to have everything there was to know before she moved forward.
As she was staring at a photo of the body, her computer dinged. Glancing up, she saw an email from the chief. Frowning, she opened it and clicked the link. Another police report opened on her screen, one that looked astonishingly like the one in her hands. A young woman had been murdered in Springfield a week ago, stabbed in the back with some kind of sword, left where she died, her arm removed and carried away. Tory hadn’t become a detective by believing in coincidences. Clicking through the pages of the report, she scanned the list of suspects. The husband, a disgruntled co-worker, a schizophrenic observed near the scene, and an ex-convict living down the street. The prime suspect, Peter Walters, was the husband, who had taken out a new life-insurance policy on his wife just two weeks before her death. Perhaps this case would be easier to solve than Tory had thought.
It took only an hour and a half for Tory to give up on the husband. She had read transcripts of the interrogations, background checks, financials, and cell-phone records, and she could not find any proof of motive. Walters had a clear motive for his wife’s murder, but the subsequent dismemberment and the most recent killing didn’t fit. Tory just could not figure a motive for the man that would explain the Chicago man. It had to be somebody else. Returning to the list of suspects, Tory picked the next likely, the convict. Under the assumption that the murders were connected, the killer needed to have a pathological need for violence. There was no connection between the victims or between the Chicago man and the suspects of the previous murder, besides their murders. A convict seemed the most likely to have such a psychology.
The convict could not have done it. He had been in police custody at the time of the Chicago murder, so his alibi was unshakable. Crossing her fingers, Tory moved on to the next suspect. If she couldn’t find the killer in the list, she would have to start all over from scratch. She wanted this wrapped up as soon as possible; she couldn’t let the murderer stay on the streets. As she clicked open the next file, a ragged face filled her screen. Adrian Keemer, the mentally disturbed man the police had found near the crime-scene, looked out at her with bright blue eyes. Tory stared at the image for a moment, then scrolled down, rolling his picture out of the screen. She was tempted to be offended on his behalf, he was a suspect because of his mental state and proximity to a crime-scene, but as she read his background, she found herself wondering if his mental state was what had kept him from being the prime suspect. He had severe schizophrenia, had been in and out of mental institutions since he was 14, had shown violent tendencies, and often had elaborate hallucinations that lasted for days. He was off medication and off the grid, out on his own in the world. He was a perfect candidate to go on a killing spree.
Even though she was sure she had the culprit, Tory couldn’t proceed until she got a warrant for Keemer’s psychology reports, had the reports transferred to her, and tracked down where this man was. Even when she had done all of that, she had no proof that he was involved, so she couldn’t arrest him. She would have to hope that he would be willing to come in for questioning. She wanted him in interrogation now, not tomorrow, not in an hour, now, but it was three days after she found his name before he was actually in front of her.
She stood behind the one-way mirror, looking into the room at Adrian Keemer. He was medium height, had shaggy brown hair and blue eyes, wore a dusty black shirt and a ragged black overcoat. When the officers had picked him up, he had had a slim sword in a sheath on his back, but they had asked him to remove it for the interrogation and he had surrendered it willingly. Now, Keemer sat on the floor of the interrogation room, his back to the wall opposite the door, looking at the mirrored surface of the window to the observation room. Tory wondered if he had found the angle at which the room behind the mirror was almost visible. Maybe he was watching her the same way she was watching him.
Putting her mind in interrogation mode, Tory stepped confidently into the room.
“Adrian Keemer,” she addressed him as she sat down at the table with her back to the mirror. “Would you please have a seat.” She gestured to the chair across from her.
“No, thank you, miss.” He told her, not moving from his spot. “I can’t see the right reflections if I sit over there.”
Trying to appear unruffled, Tory turned her chair slightly to face him.
“Alright then. Can you tell me where you were on July the eighth?” The night of the Springfield murder.
Keemer tilted his head, considering.
“Well, miss,” he said finally, looking at a spot over her head. “I certainly could tell you, but I know you wouldn’t believe me, so I might as well not.”
Tory wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. She hoped it meant that he was willing to confess to the murder, but something about this man made her uneasy. She had a feeling that it was not going to be that simple.
“I’ll believe you, Mr. Keemer. Just tell me what you were doing that night, and we’ll...”
He held up a finger for quiet, and Tory stopped, watching him. He mumbled something to himself, waited, and whispered again. Getting to his feet, he said, “Yes, sir”, and started for the door.
“My apologies, miss,” he said to Tory, stepping past her. “I have become otherwise engaged.”
Tory quickly stood and stepped between Keemer and the door, blocking his path.
“Mr. Keemer, I still have some questions for you.” She told him, hoping that she could convince him not to leave. If he got away, she felt sure that she would never catch him again.
Adrian Keemer was not having it. He was polite, working up an almost patronizing smile, but he spoke firmly.
“Miss detective, I am afraid that my job has called me away. It is my duty to go. I hope that I see you again sometime, but right now I am leaving.” He ducked around her and out the door before she had a chance to respond. Spinning in the doorway, Tory saw the tattered edge of his coat disappear around the corner at the end of the hall. In ten minutes he would back on the streets, armed with that sword, and hunting his next victim. And who was that “sir” that he had mentioned? Did he have some kind of microphone in his coat collar? Or was it just a hallucination? If he was actually talking to somebody, Tory wanted to know who it was, and if it was just a hallucination, then what “job” was Keemer on his way to? She had thought that having Keemer right in front of her would answer her questions, but this interview had only added a thousand new ones. Slipping back into the observation room, she called in a request to have Keemer tailed.
Absently, Tory made her way to her desk and fell into her chair, spinning back and forth disinterestedly as she considered her next move. She knew that she had to find the evidence that tied Keemer to the murders, but she wasn’t sure how to do it. Keemer had gone, there had been no trace of him on the bodies, he had no motive, and she was positive that he had done it. Perhaps the key was in Keemer himself. Popping her knuckles, Tory started going over what she knew, going back to facts. Keemer was schizophrenic. He might not realize that he had killed anybody. He carried a sword. It might have been used to murder the two people, but she did not have a warrant to swab it for blood. He had a cheap flat in a poor district on Chicago’s south side. If he had kept anything from the bodies it would be there, but if he didn’t realize that he had killed them, he probably would not have taken any of their things. Then again… Tory sat up, struck by a thought. If Keemer didn’t realize that he had killed those people, he might not have thought to clean up. His clothes had been dark, tattered, and stained, but if she could get a warrant to test them for blood, she might find all she needed to convict him.
Suddenly, Tory had too much to do in too little time. Her fingers were a blur as she compiled all of the evidence she had on Keemer, which was depressingly little, and sent it off to the judge. She was confident that she would get the warrant, so as the sun began to sink behind the buildings, she set out after Keemer.
She picked up Keemer’s trail near the lake-shore, parking her car and following carefully on foot. She couldn’t arrest him until the warrant came through, but she wanted to be on him the moment it did. She had two officers backing her up, and she asked them to stay in the car and follow on the road beside the water until she called them in.
Adrian Keemer was not particularly fascinating. He meandered along the waterfront for a while, then angled into the streets. Every now and then he would stop and look around or sniff the air. Tory couldn’t tell what he was doing, but she was getting more and more anxious for her warrant. He hadn’t done anything yet, but he could snap at any moment. Staying far enough behind him to evade his detection, Tory slipped through the falling dusk after him.
Tory wasn’t sure how he did it, but as the last light of the sun faded, Keemer got away. Tory turned a corner and he was gone, out of sight. Hurrying, she looked around the next corner. He wasn’t there. Cursing lightly under her breath, she listened. There was nothing to point her in his direction. Not ready to give up, she went on in the direction that Keemer had been going.
After perhaps a half hour, Tory gave up the ghost. It was fully dark, the flickering streetlights doing little to chase the shadows off the streets, and she had no idea where Keemer could have gone. Just as she was about to call her back-up to come get her, her phone buzzed. Her back-up was calling her.
“What?” She snapped, still angry with herself for letting Keemer get away.
“The department got a call about some weird guy wandering around in the bushes. The address is only a few streets over.”
Tory was already running.
The yelling started when Tory was a block away. She couldn’t make out whether it was Keemer’s voice or not, but the general tone was not happy. Sprinting onto the right street, she was confronted with a bizarre scene. Keemer was doing some kind of something on the dusty sidewalk in front of a bedraggled apartment building. He was spinning and yelling and he looked like a child who believes that he is fighting monsters with a stick. But Keemer didn’t have a stick. He had a sword. And his monster was a middle-aged man standing back a ways and trying to speak to Keemer. As Tory drew up to the building, the man turned to see who she was, and in an instant, Keemer made a lunge at him, thrusting his sword out into the man’s back. With a yelp, the man went down, the wound in his back already bleeding onto his shirt.
Keemer leapt forward to finish the man off, but Tory pulled her side-arm, aiming it right at his heart.
“Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air.” She ordered him, stepping forward and trying to drive him away from the injured man. She heard a car turning onto the street, her back-up finally arriving, as Keemer stared at her with slightly unfocused eyes.
“I’m very pleased to see you again, miss.” he told her, tone light despite his position. “I’d be quite happy to speak with you as soon as I finish this mission.”
“Drop your weapon, Keemer.” Tory ordered again, ignoring his statement. The other officers had taken up positions across the street and Tory wanted this standoff to be over before anyone got hurt. They could discuss delusions later.
“Just let me wrap this up.” He raised his sword to strike the wounded man, who had not moved since being stabbed.
Tory shot him. It was just in the shoulder, but the power of the shot sent him reeling backward as one of the other officers rushed in to disarm him. Keemer dropped his sword and clutched his shoulder, looking at the blood on his hand with a sort of dazed confusion.
“Why did you do that?” He asked. “I was about to kill the gremlin.”
Tory stepped around him and pulled his arms behind his back.
“Adrian Keemer, you are under arrest for the murders of Kate Walters...”
He cut her off.
“No, no. My name isn’t Adrian.” He tried to turn to face her, but she held him still. “I mean, it is, but nobody calls me that. Here,” he flipped the corner of his coat at her, unable to grab it but wanting her to see something it contained. “my identification is in the pocket.”
Cautiously, Tory reached into the pocket. She drew out a battered old wallet that might once have been leather but that had decayed into a flimsy, worn sheath that she doubted would have survived the week. Opening it, she found a scrap of paper with some kind of doodle scribbled on it.
“See?” Keemer asked, looking over his shoulder at the wallet. “That’s my badge. I am a Slayer of the Order. They call me Grim Hallows.”