As promised, Foggy brought Marci and Karen to Marci’s apartment. With a wistful smile, Marci handed him a bag with his spare clothes. He knew without asking that it was all that was left of him at her place and it meant something to take it back. They had no longer a future together, never had actually, and it hurt a little that whatever spark there was between them could not change that. But they both needed to move on. Both of them wanted to.
Half an hour later, after mutual pleas and promises to be careful, Foggy said goodbye to the two women. They were still visibly reluctant to let him go, but they understood. Foggy wanted to help and the best place to do that was with Strange.
Back on the street, with his groceries, DNA-samples of two of his friends, a bag of clothes and Marci’s baseball bat, Foggy looked out for a taxi.
Suddenly, the world began spinning.
A scream sounded. Colleen whirled around and saw Misty hit the ground. At once, Colleen spotted the skeletal hand around Misty’s foot.
Colleen moved to race to Misty’s aid. But when she did, her ankle was grabbed as well. At the last second, she caught herself, preventing a fall.
The squeal that escaped her, was a bit undignified. But her dignity was a minor concern as the boney hand which had grabbed her foot was followed by an arm. Using her leg as leverage, a limb of yellow bone and decaying flesh pulled itself out of the ground.
Zombie, her mind provided.
In the corner of her eye, Colleen saw that it was not the only one. Several holes opened in the ground, bony fingers shooting out. Quickly, the openings grew. Bodies, different in size and height, but all definitely rotting, crawled from the ground. Their inhuman moans mingled with the eerie clacking of their bones.
Forcing herself to stay calm, Colleen lifted her free foot and stomped on the monster’s arm with full force. A nasty sound reached her ear as the bone snapped. With a hollow groan, the creature slipped back, hand severed but still clinging to Colleen’s foot like a vice.
“Eww,” she exclaimed.
Colleen focused on summoning the power of the Iron Fist. As soon as she felt the familiar warmth and her hand began to glow, she bent down. Features twisted in disgust she grabbed the hand, ripped it off her ankle and threw it into the woods.
When she turned, another monster approached her. The creature’s bones were prominent and visible, tainted yellow. But some rotting pieces of flesh still clung to its arms and face, swinging with each move. What remained of the dark linen clothes it once must have worn appeared almost comically as it hung wide and useless around the skeletal form.
Colleen wished for her blade now more than ever. Usually, she enjoyed hand to hand combat, but this was an opponent she'd rather not touch. But needs must. With an angry shout, Colleen slammed her fist against the zombie’s chest. Bones rattled and teeth clacked as the creature was thrown back and collided with a tree. Hitting the ground, it howled. Since it still moved, Colleen wanted to pursue. But before she could, her left arm was taken into a cold grip. A second later, something grabbed her right shoulder as well.
Taking a deep breath, she forced down the rising panic. The foreign sensations of bare bones through the fabric of her clothes made her skin crawl. But the shouts and battle noises around her, urgent but encouraging, called out to the fighter in her. The power of the Iron Fist flared through her, pushing the enemies back.
Colleen kickflipped one of them before grabbing the second. Ignoring her revulsion at the touch, she lifted it by the jaw and twisted her hand. With a cracking noise, the zombie’s head fell sidewards, unhealthily far, and the monster went limp in Colleen’s hold. Quickly, she dropped the liveless form, turned towards the other and slammed the edge of her hand against its neck, snapping it. A final groan escaped the zombie and it went down.
Standing free now, Colleen turned to Misty. Thanks to her robotic arm, Misty had fought off the first creature and was able to keep others at bay. Thanks to his magic, Strange was fine and Luke and Jess had no trouble holding their ground either, even though their opponents were relentless.
“Go for head and neck,” she yelled at her friends before attacking the zombie next to her.
Affirmations were shouted back at her. Strange twisted his fingers, forming blades of orange light. He threw them at a group of zombies, severing their heads. Accompanied by unpleasant noises, Jess snapped three enemies’ necks in a row while Luke grabbed two zombies by the throat, their bones no match for his strength. Misty took out two others and so did Colleen.
Soon, they stood in a mass of unmoving bodies.
“Where did they come from?” Luke asked, catching his breath. He was paler than usual and looked shaken.
“From underground,” Strange said, his light smile amused.
“I saw that,” Luke sighed, visibly fighting annoyance. “I mean how did they get…”
“Stra-hange?” Misty’s voice sounded.
Everyone turned towards her, immediately seeing what she saw. The headless body to her feet was twitching - so was its head, lying a few feet away. Watching in horror, Colleen saw
that all the defeated foes were in motion again. Severed limbs were hopping across the ground, finding each other.
“Oh,” Strange said. “Clever. Something here revives them.”
“Guess I’ll have to find out,” Strange said.
With that, he pushed himself off the ground, levitated in the air and closed his eyes, leaving the rising undead to his companions.
What even was going on? Groaning, Foggy pressed his eyes shut and pinched his nose bridge, waiting for the dizzy feeling to pass. The sleepless night and the hectic day had apparently come to take their toll now.
Images flashed through his mind. Pictures of Matt, so vivid and real that Foggy could almost smell his aftershave, could almost feel Matt’s hand on his shoulder.
Why was his mind so keen on torturing him? He felt bad enough, knowing that Matt was in need and Foggy could hardly do anything for him. He had to pull himself together. Which was easier said than done with the world spinning around him.
Snarling through gritted teeth, Colleen strained against the hold. With each resurrection, the zombies became stronger. Right now, three of them had managed to wrestle her down, keeping her there by impressive force.
Crying out in anger, Colleen managed to free her hand. She lifted her fist, summoned her chi and released it in a pulse. The creatures were pushed away from her and landed on the ground, hard. But soon after, they were crawling towards her again.
Colleen’s friends were not faring any better. All the while, Strange hovered above the scene, with his eyes closed.
“Strange!” Colleen called out. “What the Hell are you doing?”
“There have to be magical runes around here somewhere,” he said. “They are hard to carve into the ground so they must be on the trees. But I can’t sense them.”
“Have you checked the roots?” Colleen asked, kicking a zombie in the chest. “After all those things came from the ground!”
“I… in fact have not,” he said.
Closing his eyes again, he fell silent. Then he smiled, raised his hands and made a quick gesture. Around the clearing, small explosions sounded from below the trees, red sparks flying from their roots.
From one second to another, the zombies froze. After letting out a final inhuman wail, they turned to dark dust, engulfing the clearing. Coughing and sputtering, the group waved their hands in front of their faces, pressing their eyes shut to avoid getting the remains of their opponents into them.
When the fog-like substance had dissipated, they let out a relieved sigh. Their arms crossed, they watched Strange landing on the ground next to them.
“Now, that was unexpected,” Strange said, patting some dust out of his coat. “And dangerous. Good thing I handled it, right?” His smile fell as he looked into the annoyed faces of the group. “ We handled it?”
“Any more surprises we should expect?” Misty asked pointedly. “Especially such that might murder us?”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Miss Knight,” Strange said. “I had everything under control. But to answer your question: we should indeed venture carefully.”
With that he neared the entrance of the cabin. Carefully, he knocked and as soon as his fingers touched the wood, the old door slid open with a drawn out creak. Strange pushed it further and stepped into the house.
When Foggy felt a small hand on his shoulder, he blinked. As his eyelids fluttered open, he looked into the worried face of a teenager, her equally concerned friends standing behind her.
“You okay, man?” asked one of them.
“Uh, yeah, thanks, just… hard day,” Foggy answered. “Got the spins for a second.”
“Is it better now?” the girl wanted to know. “Should we get you a cab?”
Her smile was soft and genuine. It was nice to know that sometimes people cared. For a moment, Foggy pondered her question. But then his eyes fell on a familiar black and white sign. Smiling, he shook his head.
“Thank you, but no need,” he said, pointing at the subway entrance. “I’m fine and the station is right there.”
The inside of the cabin looked uninhabited. In the fireplace was neither wood nor ashes, suggesting it had remained cold for a while. The cupboard’s doors were hanging loose in the hinges and a fine layer of dust lay on the worn furniture. Cobwebs adorned the upper corners of the walls, and the stairs leading upstairs looked unstable.
But on the narrow steps downwards, Colleen spotted some smeared foot prints. They seemed to belong to a man and consisted of the grass and mud of the forest ground. Quietly, she lifted her hand to get Strange’s attention before pointing at the traces.
Nodding his understanding, Strange approached the stairs and began the descent. As silent as possible, the rest walked after him, trying not to make too much noise.
About half way down, the stairs took a turn. Strange had almost reached it when an annoyed voice croaked from the basement.
“You fought a bunch of zombies in my front yard and deactivated my runes, Strange,” it said. “Do you really think I don’t know you’re here?”
Sighing, Strange quickened his steps and hurried downwards. The others exchanged confused looks, but finally they shrugged and followed him.
An open door awaited them at the foot of the stairs. It offered the view into a dimly lit room, filled with high shelves along the wall and a large worktable in the middle. At the wall opposite the entrance was a smaller table with alchemistic utensils.
There stood a gaunt figure of a bald man. His back was turned to the group as he was focusing on a crucible over a little flame. Dark smoke rose from it and gurgling noise sounded from the container.
“Ervenar,” Strange said, a distant but grudgingly respectful greeting.
“Strange,” came the reply.
“Zombies again?” Strange asked.
“Yes, and again all of them were already dead when I found them - just to be clear,” Ervenar said. “Call it a security measure.”
“Does it?” The man turned, revealing a haggard face with high cheekbones, thin gray eyebrows, pale skin but very bright blue eyes. “After the last time you brought… ‘guests’ into my home?”
“It’s different this time,” Strange said.
“Huh,” Ervenar said. “Didn’t you claim you didn’t know what the order was planning?”
“Well, yes, because it’s true.”
“So how do you know it’s different this time?” Ervenar said. “Your new friends may be here to kill me as well.”
“We don’t even know who you are, man,” Luke said.
“And we don’t have time for two cryptic wizards who love the sound of their own voices,” Jess added. “So whatever problem you two have with each other, get over it!”
Ervenar tilted his head. Pushing himself away from his work space, he walked over to Jess.
“Oh, excuse me that I’m having a hard time ‘getting over’ my former comrades trying to kill me,” he said sarcastically and pointed at Strange, “Or over Strange leading them right to me! My experiments and notes are very sensitive.”
“You led killers to his place?” Misty asked.
Exasperated, Strange threw his hands in the air. “No, no, no. It was completely different. Look. Ervenar used to be a member of the Ordo Draconum. When they had a… falling out, I tried to mediate. After all, the order is an important pillar in the fight against Dark Powers and Ervenar is a brilliant alchemist and magician. I did not know that a failure of the mediation would lead to the order attacking Ervenar.”
“You should have known,” Ervenar scoffed. “They're not known for agreeing to disagree.”
“Well, it’s not that you disagreed on your favorite ice cream flavor,” Strange mumbled.
“I have some experience when it comes to turning your back on a secret organization,” Colleen said with a sad smile and gifted Ervenar with a sympathetic look. “What happened?”
“I did not turn my back on them,” Ervenar spat. “ They abandoned me . For trying to save us all!”
“To be fair, the order fights everything Unholy,” Strange said. “You must have known that turning to the Dark Arts would not be appreciated.”
“Oh for…! Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire,” Ervenar exclaimed. “Evil was winning. We were almost overrun! I had to… pah, doesn’t matter now. I will not repeat my defense speech. What do you want?”
“I need vampire ashes,” Strange said.
Ervenar raised a brow.
“Vampires, eh?” he said and smirked. “And you want to heal them?”
“We are within the time window.”
“Good for you the order is out of the picture at the moment,” Ervenar laughed and approached one of his shelves.
“What does that mean?” Misty wanted to know.
“The ordo draconum would not let a vampire live,” Ervenar said. “Once infected, a person becomes a target for them.”
“But it’s not their fault when they get attacked and if they can be saved…”
Ervenar interrupted with a scoff.
“ I’m not arguing with you,” he said while taking a little satchel from the shelf. “But the order would not take any risk, would not take one step from the given path, just to save an innocent life.” A sad expression rushed over his face. “They would not even accept using magic of the left hand to save their own comrades. Why would they break their rules for strangers?”
He handed Strange the satchel and murmured, “Good luck.” But then he let his eyes wander over the group. “Your group is pretty large. Need more wolfsbane?”
“Wolfsbane?” Strange asked. “I thought it doesn’t really work to keep vampires away.”
“Not physically, no,” Ervenar said. Then he frowned. “Wait, none of you is carrying wolfsbane?”
“Why would we if it doesn’t help?” asked Colleen.
Annoyed, Ervenar groaned. “That’s what happens when all your information comes from people who prefer killing vampires over saving them.”
Ervenar sighed, “As you probably know, a vampire is not only a physical threat but also has hypnotic powers.”
“Yeah, they can lure people in, right?” Luke said.
“That sells their abilities a little short,” Ervenar laughed. “Even if it’s not per se wrong to put it that way. Those powers are stronger the closer the vampire is to the person he tries to hypnotize. And I assume we are talking about friends of yours. Which means you are close to them, right?”
“Yes, they are,” Colleen said.
“When the bond is strong, their influence on a person’s mind is strong as well. They can make them believe things, influence decisions, sometimes even their prey’s perception of reality,” he explained. “
“Damn,” Luke said. “Foggy’s the closest to Matt and he is alone out there.”
“Okay, that… that’s obviously bad,” Jessica said. “But Foggy is smart and will keep himself safe, right? If Matt can’t reach him, he can’t talk to him, thus can’t influence him. Right?”
“Depends.” Ervenar shrugged.
“On what?” Jessica asked with an impatient growl.
“The strength of their bond,” Ervenar said. “Some vampires have been known to influence their loved ones over great distances, luring them away from sunlit places, right into their arms. The deeper the bond, the further the reach.”
The group members looked at each other with fearful expressions on their faces.
“Shit!” they exclaimed, almost simultaneously.
Whistling, Foggy took the stairs to the subway station. He felt good, sort of. Everything would be alright, wouldn’t it. The day had gone according to plan, he had everything he needed and would be back in the sanctum on time. Yet, something was nagging at the back of his mind. As if he had forgotten something important. But he had not. He had snacks, clothes and the DNA Strange had asked for. He was all set. Soon, he’d be back with the group, planning how to save Matt and Danny.
He made a small detour to the men’s bathroom. Weirdly enough though, when he arrived, there were no stalls and no washbasins. Scratching his head, Foggy pondered why that was. In addition, he began to wonder why he even went here. Neither did he need to pee, nor did he feel the need to clean his hands.
Confused, he wanted to leave the room. His eyes widened as they fell on the door, the door that - moments ago - was marked as the entrance to the men’s loo, but now was painted with large letters, saying “Maintenance - qualified staff only”. Turning back and looking around, Foggy found that the interior actually did fit a maintenance room much better than a public toilet.
Something was off. Why did he walk in here?
Before he could question this further, a loud clanging noise startled him. Yelling, he whirled around, only to find the door closed. Much more concerning was the dark figure blocking it.
There he stood: Matt Murdock, Foggy’s best friend, long-time crush, partner against crime - and blood-sucking predator. He was cladded in his Daredevil suit, except for the headpiece. Usually, Foggy would be upset about Matt risking his secret identity, but it was definitely one of the lesser problems right now.
“Foggy,” Matt said softly. “I’m so happy you came back to me.”
Matt smiled, fangs showing. In his unfocused eyes gleamed an eerie amalgam of fondness, warmth, desire and greed. Slow, but steady, he approached Foggy who had nowhere to go in the small room. Very soon, he hit a wall and whimpered.
The noise was not born of fear alone. He had to admit that seeing Matt like this - lean, strong, smart, predatory - awoke very different instincts as well. That this man, this powerful, perfect hunter, wanted him was hard to believe, yet true.
“Matty,” Foggy whispered as Matt crowded him against the cold tiles of the wall.
Why had he been avoiding Matt again? He had, hadn’t he? Just seconds ago, Foggy had been thinking how to best run away. Why would he run from Matt? Silly. Foggy was sometimes so silly. But Matt wanted him anyway.
This knowledge sent a wave of relief through Foggy. Sighing, he leant into the touch of Matt’s hand and met those cherry lips half-way. Happily, Matt groaned into the kiss and Foggy reveled in this noise of Matt's contentment. Matt was so patient with him. The least thing Foggy could do was give him everything he wanted. And Matt wanted Foggy. It was all so easy.