Chapter LXXII: Griffith Park
I had remembered where I'd heard about Griffith Park. It was a nature reserve and research institute, with a large observatory built at the peak of the mountain. Access was provided by the cable-car that ran during the day for nature-lovers and tourists to see the surrounds. An idyll of tranquillity in the city of L.A. I walked over to the building, finding the door unlocked.
Switching on the power, the cable-car lights came on, the whirring of the engine becoming audible in the silence. My footsteps echoed as I got inside, the doors closing behind me. Another button pushed, and the cable-car made its way up the mountain.
From the window it was possible to see the observatory. Maybe that had been where Nines had been hiding out while the bloodhunt was on. Curious choice, but maybe that was why. As the car came to a stop, I pushed open the door, and walked into the cool air.
I left the building cautiously, looking to either side, ever suspicious. Looking up, I saw him. Nines, leader of the Anarchs, standing under a lamp-post, a grin coming to his face as he saw me. He ran down the incline and slapped me on the back.
Well, at least he doesn't hold a grudge.
'You will be when you find out why. LaCroix wants Anarch help to push the Kuei Jin back into the ocean they washed up from.' Nines face hardened.
'Oh yeah, trust me. He'll be backing this one up, he wants the Kuei Jin dead. Although, if you and me happened to die in the crossfire, I don't think he'd be particularly upset.'
'If you ask me, LaCroix is getting desperate.'
I began to talk. To tell him about LaCroix's agreement with the Kuei Jin, his desire to wipe out the Anarchs and partition L.A. Before I could get the words out, Nines put his hand out, silencing me.
'Yeah, I know the whole thing stinks, bu-'
I sniffed at the air.
'Well, yeah, I guess it is.'
'What? You've lost me.' I then noticed how widespread the fire was, how quickly it was travelling. It had effectively hedged us in, the ash and embers coming down fast, the sky turning a muddy orange.
'Shit. I should have suspected that bastard LaCroix would be up to something. Seems a strange way of killing us though.' Nines grabbed me by the arm, pulling me back towards the cable-car.
'Werewolf country. Well, can't we reason with them? It should be obvious we didn't start this fire.'
Nines' voice was fast, his eyes everywhere. It was the first time I'd ever seen him lose his cool. That worried me more than the description.
'Right, we better go.'
'Got your back.'
We ran down to the building, in time to hear the whir of the machinery as the cable-car began it's descent.
'Shit!', Nines yelled. 'The cable-car is leaving. Bastard's set us up!' Somehow, I suspected the person who had brought it down was the taxi-driver. I'd managed to screw Nines, and myself. LaCroix wanted no-one to know about his dealings.
'Quick, get into the buildAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!'
It happened so quickly. Out of nowhere, a streak of white fur. Nines screamed in agony as large jaws crushed down on his torso, the werewolf leaving over the edge of the cliff, taking the Anarch leader with it.
'Nines!' I roared, heading towards the cliff. And stopped, turning my head, every hair raising, my stomach weighed down with an enormous sense of dread.
A second werewolf emerged. A 12 foot tall mass of sinew, sniffing hungrily at the air, fur bristling with rage. It sniffed again, raising its head to roar with anger.
'Aw shit.' I backed away as the werewolf sprinted towards me, turned to run. Before I could register the movement, a large claw picked me up, throwing me hard against a tree. I slumped down, splinters shredding my back, the tree snapping in half. I shook my head, stumbled to my feet. The creature was playing with me. I turned, sprinting towards the building. The werewolf gave pursuit, clearing the distance between us. I managed to reach the observatory door, ripping it open, slamming it shut behind me.
I continued to run through the darkened building, hearing the wall behind me explode, felt the cinderblock hitting me as the werewolf jumped through the large hole, snarling, biting. Despite everything I'd gone through, I'd never felt panic like this. It was as if the werewolf channeled some raw fear, some natural self-preservation trigger, the one thing in the world bigger and hungrier than we were. Gasping, I pulled open the exit door on the other side of the building.
In the distance was the power-room that powered the observatory. The building was shut for the night, the power off. I ran towards the switch, and slammed the lever down, switching the power back on. The building lit up, illuminating the werewolf perched on the roof. It jumped down, feet crushing the earth, snarling at me as I backed against the wall. I heard a whimpering noise, a distant part of my consciousness realising it was me making the sound. Terrified, I jumped out of the way of a slashing claw, rolled past the werewolf and bounded back to my feet, running for the external stairs leading to the the top floor of the observatory. Turning on the power had opened the large steel doors that led to the powerful telescope that had been set up at the top of the mountain. If I could just get inside, get away from the werewolf, hide...
Claws raked my back, making the pain I had felt when the Tzmisce had taken his kilo of flesh feel like a summers breeze. Was it something in the claws? I screamed like I hadn't screamed before, a primeval urge making me run faster. Jumping, I managed to grab the hand-rail leading up to the stairs, pulled myself up and over, ran through the doors.
I could hear the werewolf running forwards, jumping over the hand-rail. I grabbed the door lever, pulled it down, to close the doors. I hoped that it had been fast enough to lock the creature out, fast enough to...
The roar cut off all thought. Turning, my mouth slack, my temples throbbing, I saw the werewolf standing in the doorway, saliva dripping from its maw, the lips pulled back from glinting teeth. The doors were closing, the werewolf forcing them back open.
The werewolf roared as the metal groaned, the exertion becoming apparent as the muscles tensed, the veins showing through the bare patches. And ever so slowly, the werewolf gave way. It panted, struggling, and then, the doors slammed close with the sickening sound of crushed bone, organs bursting.
The creature gave a final, painful roar, ending in a weak yelp. It pawed at the door, before going still.
Finally, the head flopped down, the strength gone from its upper half. Not breathing. Eyes unblinking. Dead.
I gave a sigh, began to laugh, almost hysterically, as I sat down hard. My luck couldn't keep continuing like this. The thing had almost had me, would have had me. There was no way I could have fought something like th...
I stood up, running outside, ignoring the agony in my back. I looked over the edge of the cliff where the combatants had fallen. Yet there was no sign of either.
I called down, over and over again. There was no response. Had the Anarchs last hope fallen? Was it over? Had LaCroix won? He couldn't. So long as I still existed, I would be a thorn in the Joker-king's side. He wouldn't go by a day without cursing the choice to let me live. I ran into the building, waited for the cable-car to return. On the way down, I plotted. The Anarchs may have suffered a serious blow with the loss of Nines, but it hadn't destroyed them. I'd help, where I could. Join them. Isaac was smart, he'd be able to help plan things, I had more than enough experience now to be able to carve my way through Camarillia and Kuei Jin...but was either of us charismatic enough to keep the organisation together after such a loss? I stepped out into the night air, unsurprised that the taxi had disappeared. In its place was a blue muscle-car with tinted windows, Jack leaning against the passenger door.
'Let's get out of here kid, sun's comin' up!'
I got in, Jack slamming the door behind me.