Cold wind buzzed around the building, now and again finding its way in through a crack or crevice. It whispered in the timberworks and cooled the air in the long wide hallways. But in the library a welcoming warmth embraced the group as soon as they entered.
Colleen remained outside for a moment to call and warn Ward and Joy. Despite the pressing matter, Foggy found himself curious how those two would react to this specific kind of message. But he fought the urge to eavesdrop and followed the others. He had already warned Karen during the car ride. Claire was out of town and therefore hopefully safe.
Strange gestured to them to sit and help themselves to a warm beverage. A tea pot and an old fashioned set of cups already waited for them on a coffee table near a group of comfortable armchairs. Since everyone else was new to this and more confused than himself, Foggy took charge and filled the cups for his friends.
With raised brows, he eyed his tea. The others did the same, but their looks were aimed at him. Maybe it would be rude to ask why all guests had different coloured drinks in their cups despite receiving them from the same pot. Jessica’s beverage wasn’t even tea.
The only one who might have an explanation, however, was busy. Strange collected several books from the shelves in the library, balancing them between his chin and arms, while mumbling to himself. His eccentric coat fluttered dramatically with his every movement along the rows of literature.
“He is… um… a sorcerer,” Foggy said to his friends.
“Right, of course.” Misty sighed and fell into one of the chairs.
Luke followed her example while Jess chose to keep pacing. When Colleen joined them, she took the place next to Foggy and sipped her tea without complaint.
“They are warned,” she said. “I hope they’ll be careful.”
Foggy hummed thoughtfully. In all fairness, none of them really knew what being careful meant. In movies and series it would mean not to invite Danny and Matt in, but would the lack of invitation keep them out in reality? Especially since at the moment Danny lived in Ward’s guest room which made Ward’s home Danny’s home.
After a while, Foggy’s thoughts were interrupted as Strange joined the group. He put the books down on the low table and sighed. Appearing stressed, he ran a hand through his graying black hair before addressing his guests.
“I feared that this specific threat would return,” he said. “However, I hoped I’d have some time. God knows I have enough to do.”
“Return?” Jessica repeated. “So they were… what? Gone?”
“Never really gone ,” Strange said. “But so low in number and strength that they did not cause much trouble in the last centuries.”
“How can strong, fast, immortal bloodsuckers not cause trouble?” Foggy asked, incredulous. “I mean, Luke and Jess combined, both not exactly fragile, had problems dealing with one.”
“Of course, vampires need to eat. I do not mean to be disrespectful, but a victim now and again doesn’t make them a top threat. To do enough damage to tip any scales, there weren’t enough of them,” Strange said. “Between fighting the Ordo Draconum and the Hand, vampires did not have much of a chance to attack average people on a big scale.”
“The Hand?” Misty looked surprised. “They fought vampires?”
“Not to protect the innocent,” Strange hurried to clarify. “But the Hand are ninja. They operate in the dark. Vampires are predators who lurk in the dark. The independent vampires were a threat, the organized ones a threat and potential rival. So as soon as they had enough power, the Hand acted fast. They used the magic at their disposal to find vampires wherever they hid. They either joined the Hand or died. Most died actually. And the Order of the Dragon? Well, a vampire is the embodiment of an Unholy creature.”
“So the main factors that kept the vampires low in number were the Hand and the Ordo Draconum,” Foggy said.
“But the order was decimated fighting the Beast of the Hand and then a building fell on the Hand’s leadership,” Colleen sighed.
“Exactly,” Strange said. “Apparently, the effect of their demise comes to pass sooner than I anticipated.”
For a moment nobody spoke. They had of course made their assumptions, but hearing the truth from an expert was another thing. But at least they had an expert who knew more than legends and bad movies.
“You can forget most myths about vampiric weaknesses or strength,” Strange said. “Garlic does not at all faze them, neither will iron. Blackthorn and Wolfsbane are the only herbs actually weakening them, but they won’t kill them. And you’d need a lot of it to keep a vampire away from you.”
“What about religious symbols? Or places?” Foggy asked. “I held a bible to keep Matt away. He kicked it out of my hands, but he was not unaffected, I think.”
“Hmhm,” Strange hummed thoughtfully. “A person, religious during their mortal life, might feel uncomfortable around symbols of their religion and avoid Holy places. But if anything, it’s a psychological hindrance. Once the vampire overcomes the… melancholy the memories of their former life evokes, this will no longer stop them.”
“So… all the stories are bullshit?” Luke asked. “What does stop them?”
“A stake in the heart will do,” Strange said. “Daylight weakens them, but only direct sunlight kills them. Unfortunately, moonlight increases their powers so avoid fighting them under the full moon.”
“Isn’t moonlight basically sunlight?” Jess asked.
“Reflected by the moon, yes,” Strange said. “But the moon has a certain empowering effect on many creatures of the night. Whatever the sun does to vampires, the moon somehow transforms it into something good - well, or bad if you’re not the vampire in question, but his prey.”
“So, wooden stakes and direct sunlight if we want to kill them,” Foggy said.
“Oh, beheading works, too,” Strange added.
“Yeah, great, what about saving them?”
“Ah, right, yes, that’s of course plan A,” Strange said. “The good news is, it’s not too late. Depending on the strength of the turning vampire and the physical condition of the turned human, the process can be reversed within 3 to 5 days.”
Foggy felt hope blooming in his heart. “That… that is good, right? I mean, Danny and Matt are very strong and fit - and those vampires hid in a drug den so they can’t exactly be bloodsucker elite, right?”
Everybody turned to Strange. Hesitantly, he nodded, apparently not wanting to be too optimistic.
“The circumstances are… not the worst,” he finally said, which for him was pretty diplomatic. “However, I am worried about the combination of vampirism and the Iron Fist.”
“A person’s life force, what some call chi, is what powers the Iron Fist,” Strange said. “When a person dies, the chi runs out. When a person turns into a vampire, it is corrupted.”
“There was something in the glow around Danny’s fist,” Misty said.
Strange nodded grimly. “It’s what I feared. Usually it takes a few hours to turn a person into a vampire. But…”
“That can’t be!” Luke interrupted. “In the house we were separated for only a few minutes.”
“True,” Jess sighed. “But it was Matt who found the house and called us in.”
“You mean he was already…”
“But what about Danny?”
“That’s what I was trying to say,” Strange said, annoyed. “A power like the Iron Fist, takes part of the life force to the outside of the body. It makes it easier for any force that is meant to corrupt said life force to do so. So Mr. Rand is probably easier to infect, but also it might make it easier for him to infect someone. Maybe within minutes or seconds.”
“But would vampires want that?” Foggy asked. “Would they want to turn pieces of food into another mouth to feed within minutes or seconds? Doesn’t sound smart.”
“Usually, I’d agree,” Strange said. “But they need to rebuild. The Hand and the Ordo Draconum almost had them go extinct. Now is their time to grow again. So yes, their desire to recruit will definitely be higher than at other times. However, since Danny Rand fought some of you but neither of you is a vampire, it hasn’t corrupted him completely yet.”
“So, what do we do?” Jess stopped in her tracks, impatience written all over her face. “Obviously, we can’t be sure how much time we have so we should not waste any unless we want to lose our fr… Danny and Matt.”
“Not even to speak of what they might do while being infected,” Luke said. “Matt and Danny would never forgive themselves for hurting innocent people, no matter if it was their fault or not.”
“Well, I don’t plan on dawdling,” Strange said primly.
“Of course not,” Foggy hurried to say and added, with a pointed look at Jess, “Nobody was suggesting you were.”
Jess rolled her eyes and turned away. But fortunately, Strange either did not see or not care.
“There is a potion to heal vampirism,” he said. “I should have most of what it requires here. I will, however, need some DNA from each patient from before the transformation: hair, blood, fingernails, skin, something like that.”
“Hair should be no problem,” Foggy said. “I have a key to Matt’s apartment and can get his comb or hairbrush or whatever he uses to make his hair look so fluffy.”
Blushing, he realized that he had said that out loud and was making ‘fluffy’ gestures above his head to visualize Matt’s hair effects. Everyone, even Jess, was grinning at him, but Misty took pity on him and said with a nod, “It is very fluffy.”
“Danny is living with Ward,” Colleen said. “I’m sure there will be something at Ward’s place to help with that.”
“Good,” Strange said. “Mr. Nelson, would you take care of this? The rest have to accompany me to… um… an old aquantaince’s house. He has another ingredient I need. I think.”
“And you need company because he isn’t one to share,” Luke assumed.
“You could put it like that.”
“I still can’t believe they let you do this alone!”
“I’m a grown man, Karen!”
“Yes, but not a superhuman - unlike them,” Karen argued.
“I agree,” Marci said. “All these superfighters accompany the magician…”
“...and leave you to fend for yourself.”
“Well, he doesn’t have to,” Karen said. “We’re here.”
After Foggy had told Karen what happened to Matt, she’d made him promise to keep her updated. In hindsight, he should have broken that promise. But of course, he had not so there was no way Karen and Marci let Foggy go into Matt’s apartment alone.
All in all, the two of them had taken it well. Karen of course was sick with worry for Matt while Marci had comforted Foggy with a “bad weeds grow tall” and a pat on the back. But the whole vampire thing did not faze them. Foggy guessed that nothing could really surprise New Yorkers anymore after aliens, mutants, demons, zombies and ninjas - and of course zombie ninjas.
“I doubt he went home,” Foggy said for the umpteenth time as they went up the stairs, hoping the ladies would let him check alone.
“Why not?” Marci asked, clutching the baseball bat in her hand. “Bloodsucker or not. He pays the rent.”
“Because he is weaker during the day so he won’t be in a place we would be looking for him because he wouldn’t want to fight then,” Foggy said, pretty confident since he was about 73% sure this made sense.
“But you aren’t certain,” Karen said astutely, pointing at Foggy with the wooden leg she had broken off an old chair. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t mind us coming along.”
“Exactly,” Marci said. “White knight that you are, you’d rather be eaten than endanger us.”
“Matt isn’t gonna eat me, Marci,” Foggy said, exasperated.
“Foggy-bear, the guy looked at you like he wanted to eat you before he turned into a vampire,” Marci said. “So I’m not taking any chances.”
Blushing, Foggy avoided her gaze by searching for his spare key. After he found it, he let himself and the two women into Matt’s apartment. A fond sigh escaped him as Marci and Karen took him in their midst, holding up their make-shift weapons that would do shit if vampire Matt was actually here, waiting for them.
“Okay, Buffy 1 and Buffy 2 - no, I won’t clarify who is who -,” Foggy declared. “Had Matt come home, he would have been a smart little vampire and closed the curtains. But they are wide open so he is not here.”
Triumphantly, he stepped into the sun flooded main room of Matt’s apartment. Karen, however, was not convinced.
“Ooor, he wants us to think that and hides in the bathroom which has no windows,” she said.
Matt was not hiding in the bathroom. Nor in the closet. Or under the bed.
“For fuck’s sake, Marci, the apartment has no secret crawlspace,” Foggy snapped and regretted it immediately when he saw her face.
It was Marci’s mask of indignation which she often used to hide being hurt. She was only worried and so was Karen. They must have noticed how the last night had shaken Foggy when he’d told them about it. He shouldn’t take his mood out on them.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed. “Just… the bathroom is safe, okay? Give me a minute.”
“Okay, Foggy-bear,” Marci said, her face softening. “Take your time. You had a rough night.”
“Yeah,” Karen piped. “We’ll keep guard.”
Foggy smiled. “Thanks. Good to know I’m safe.”
In the bathroom, Foggy closed the door behind him. Relieved, he fell against it and tried sorting his thoughts while fighting against the urge to cry. With his lips pressed together, he rummaged through Matt’s cabinet to find what Strange needed. Carefully, he put a brush and a comb in his plastic bag, as well as a toothbrush, just in case.
Then he sank down on the edge of the bathtub. His shaking hands touched his lips. When he closed his eyes, he could still feel the tinge of Matt’s kiss, the whisper of his touch, the echo of the pain from sharp teeth on his neck. Matt’s silken hypnotic voice sounded in his mind, calling out to him. Part of him wished to be in Matt’s arms again and experience all these sensations in reality once more. The very same part panicked, fearing that Matt would find someone else if Foggy did not comply.
Aggressively, Foggy shook his head. These thoughts were dumb and dangerous. Yes, he loved Matt and that was why he needed to focus and pull himself together. There was a very real chance to lose Matt. This time not to death, but to some dark supernatural infection that would change Foggy’s best friend into a dark mirror of himself. Foggy owed it to Matt to be at full concentration. While Foggy could not fight, cast spells or brew magic potions, he could help organize and come up with a plan. And he would.
Determined, he nodded, grabbed the bag with the Matt Murdock DNA and left the bathroom. In the living room. They still had Danny’s DNA samples to get.
Ward was pale when he let them in. Helpfully, he had already grabbed Danny’s comb and fished a used razor blade out of the bathroom trash. Chuckling nervously, he gestured towards the large windows of his living room, all curtains open.
“All that light doesn’t really agree with my hangover,” he jested with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “But safety first, right?”
“Yeah, about that,” Foggy said. “Only direct sunlight kills vampires, otherwise they are just weakened during the day.”
“Well, I don’t want to kill Danny, do I?” Ward laughed uncomfortably, clasping his hands together.
“Of course not,” Karen said. “But assuming he doesn’t want to kill himself either, he won’t step into direct sunlight. Open curtains alone though won’t stop him.”
“I want to help Danny.” Finally Ward’s facade crumbled. “I… He stood by me when I needed him and we had each other’s backs in Asia and…”
“I know, I know,” Foggy said. “The best way to help him, right now, is to keep away from him so he doesn’t do something he’ll regret as soon as he is himself again.”
“Will he be?” Ward asked, voice breaking. “Himself again? Will he be okay?”
“Yes,” Foggy said, firmly as he needed to believe himself. “There is a way to heal him, but we need to hurry and we need to be sure they don’t infect others.”
“But all the measures against vampires are just legends?”
“Well, not all… But the best defense for you is probably to keep him physically out of your apartment.”
“Well, the security here is specifically aimed at keeping out people with superpowers who can climb walls so that should work,” Ward said.
“That’s good,” Foggy said reassuringly. “What about your sister?”
“She… didn’t want to come here and stay with me,” Ward said quietly. “But she checked into a five star hotel with some crazy security. She’ll be okay.”
Awkward silence fell. Foggy struggled to find the right words. He felt bad for Ward who was clearly worried about Danny and his sister. The defenders and Foggy at least weren’t alone in their shared concern for their wayward friends. But bringing Ward along was no option and neither was staying with him.
So Foggy put on an apologetic smile. “We have to…”
“Of course, of course,” Ward said. “Just… please keep me posted. And if there is anything I can do. Anything you need…”
“...we’ll call you. Promise.”
After reminding Ward to lock himself in after sunset, Foggy, Karen and Marci left the fancy apartment building and found themselves back on the street. They had some hours left before nightfall. But Foggy wanted to get some snacks and other things before returning to the Sanctum.
Of course, Karen wanted to accompany him to Bleeker Street. But Foggy managed to convince her to stay with Marci since Marci was probably not on Matt’s radar and also had some expensive security measures in her home to show for.
“You can help me shop, I’ll get you ladies to Marci’s and be at the Sanctum long before dusk,” Foggy said in the most confident and casual tone he could muster. “Alright?”
With a gesture of Steven Strange’s hand, the fabric of space ripped open in front of them. A circle of a dark orange glow appeared and grew in size at a fast pace. The shining circle framed the realistic looking picture of a dark forest.
Misty squinted. No, it was not a realistic picture of a forest. It was a forest she saw behind the strange opening.
“What… is that?” she asked.
“This is a magic portal,” Strange said conversationally while packing some things into a bag. “It will take us to our destination.”
“Is it safe?” Luke asked.
Strange barked out a laugh. “Hell, no!” he said. But upon seeing four pairs of widened eyes staring at him, he hurried to say, “Ah, I mean, this is a relatively safe way of traveling, but our destination is dangerous.” Smiling broadly, he stretched his hands out to the group. “Hence the need for your company.”
Colleen, Misty, Jess and Luke exchanged worried looks. Finally, Jess shrugged.
“Let’s get it over with,” she said. “If what we need to heal Matt and Danny is there, we’ll go there.”
Strange gallantly bowed and gestured at the portal. Rolling her eyes, Jess stepped through and was gone for a second. Then her lithe form re-appeared within the circle that showed her looking around, wary and fascinated at the same time.
The rest of the group followed. Misty gasped at the weird sensation of teleportation. Relieved, she found herself in one piece in the middle of the foreign forest.
On a superficial look, the place might have been beautiful. Misty was not sure where on Earth (God, she hoped they were still on Earth) they had landed, but it seemed to be autumn here as well. Birds sang and insects hummed. The smell of untouched wood filled the air as a fresh but not chilly wind rushed through the grass. It rustled in the colorful leaves of the large trees and made Misty’s curls dance around her face.
But Misty’s instincts rang all the alarm bells. Restlessly, her eyes wandered while she was walking behind Strange and Colleen with Luke and Jess behind her. Something was not right underneath that harmonic almost picturesque scene of the peaceful forest.
Strange signaled them to halt. In front of them was a clearing, too perfect a circle to be a natural occurrence. But if not for that unpleasant sensation burning in her guts, Misty would have loved the spot.
It was inviting. The grass here was soft and green, the fauna just as chirpy as in the other parts and somewhere in the distance they heard the happy murmur of a river.
Strange put his hands on his hips. Shaking his head, he sighed as he took in his surroundings.
“How dramatic,” he stated.
Lifting his arms, he began moving his fingers. After a while, the invisible lines he drew took shape as orange symbols in the air. He let them linger above the ground for a moment before making a pushing gesture. The runes moved forward and vanished. Seconds later, the clearing was no longer empty.
Before Misty’s widened eyes, a building of dark gray stone appeared.
“Shit,” Jess said.
“Sweet Christmas,” Luke added.
Colleen remained silent. She, like Misty, opted to stare in stunned silence.
The house looked old and worn. Its facade was dirty, the windows on the upper floor stained, those on the ground floor barred with planks. The wooden door might once have been sturdy but time had worn it out, leaving it brittle. Ivy grew along the masonry and the roof, slipping inside through several gaps and cracks.
Very pleased with himself, Strange smiled.
“That was easy,” he said and shook his head with laughter. “He really thought that would keep me out…”
It was then that Misty heard a rustling sound near her feet. She looked down just in time to see the ground break open and a bony hand circle around her ankle.