It's not as though the team wasn't disappointed to come home, pretty much, empty handed after they had put in so much time and effort towards successfully getting inside a heavily guarded warehouse, and was still able to skillfully improvise their way around a multitude of unforeseen obstacles along the way. Because they definitely were. In fact, plans were already being made for what to do with the money once they were able to unload the diamonds at the nearest Raider's Market next weekend. Possibly some more efficient equipment, or perhaps a few swift and effective weapons that they could use to pull off bigger and better heists in the future.
There were times when Joey thought that maybe there would come a day where the three of them could finally pull of that one last score...and retire from the hustle for good. No more threats. No more hostile situations. No more tossing themselves to the wolves for the sake of a few cash grabs and the rapidly dwindling supply of funds to follow. It might be nice to relax for a while. Find someone special of his very own to sire and maybe withdraw from the dangerous life he's been living so far in darkness.
But those thoughts never lasted for very long. Joey knew the truth. And it seemed like this shady Soren character knew it too. The truth was...he'd miss the adrenaline rush of it. The hustle, the reconnaissance, the conflict. There was a certain satisfaction that came with pulling of a sweet con job that many people will never know. They weren't born for it like he was. The 'Falcon 3' was the perfect combination of push and pull...and the bigger the challenge, the bigger the thrill. Who would ever want to leave this life behind? Who could stand the utter boredom of it?
It was only a forty five minute trek back to their habitat on the Southwest side of town. The locked basement of an old abandoned department store. Pretty ratty looking from the outside, but it was hiding a nice little setup within. It was obvious that the boys had gathered up enough of a stash from their raids to fix up the place. From their big screen TV to their brightly lit, 300 gallon, fish tank embedded in the wall. A tank that Nathan made a beeline for the moment he stepped into the room, feeding his pets and watching to make sure they all got an even take of the food. The basement was built like one giant loft, and Caleb walked over to his bed to put his earbuds in and start listening to music as he grabbed some clean clothes and got ready to take his shower for the evening. But Joey had other plans. He didn't plan to let the dawn sneak up on him before he started on some of his research concerning his new potential employer.
There was something fishy going on here. And he knew that there was something crooked going on about this whole deal...but what was it? Where was Soren's angle. The team didn't like running into a situation blind. So as Joey sat down at his desk and opened up his laptop, he maneuvered his way into the secret 'Sector V' frequency on the dark web to see what he could find.
It took maybe an hour or two before he was able to swim deep enough in the ocean of information that he was finding on the surface to get beneath it...but he did manage to stumble across a few things. He opened his notebook and looked in a little closer, leaning forward with his pen in his mouth, absorbing the information for a moment before jotting down some of the intel he was felt was necessary to keep in mind.
Soren. Owner and promoter of the Stronghold fighting arena. Largest in the city. Main champion, goes by the name of 'Darkwolf'...currently out of commission.
Out of commission? What is that supposed to mean?
As Joey went further down Soren's list of fighters, he began to see that exact same term being used for a lot of his prize winning fighters from that arena. Over and over again, in big red letters. 'Out of commission', 'Out of commission', 'Out of commission'...what was going on here? Anybody with the kind of fighting record and clout that would be needed to battle it out in front of a gambling crowd in a place as big and well known as the Stronghold arena should all be forces to be reckoned with in their own right. What the hell kind of chaotic creature could have come along and taken them all down, one by one, like that?
Nathan got a bit curious as to what Joey was scribbling down so quickly in his notebook, and when Joey alerted them by hitting the small bell that he kept on his desk next to his laptop, he gave Caleb a nod...both boys walking over to his little work station to see what he had found. "What did you come up with? Who is this guy?" Nathan asked.
Joey kept reading for a moment, then he pointed to a few information blurbs on the screen. Caleb said, "Looks like this guy has got some major street cred out there. Or...at least he did." Joey pointed to a few surveillance screenshots, and the same shady looking guy popped up in almost every one of them. That's when Joey pointed down at his notes, and Caleb read them aloud. "Natpea?"
"What's a 'Natpea'?" Nathan asked.
"Apparently...he's Soren's one, and only, bodyguard, from the looks of it."
Nathan continued to read Joey's notes, peeking back up at the screen every now and then to see if any of this was possible. "He's a Hunter? Dedicated Hunter, 22 years of dedicated service to Soren and the Stronghold arena...turned down multiple offers to work for the Vampire Elders themselves. Even the Circle Nocturnus. This guy is a total badass..."
Caleb read a bit further, and seemed a little confused. "It says here that he's a level seven class Hunter. Holy damn!"
"Level seven?" Nathan said. "I didn't even know there WAS a level seven."
Joey signed, "I suppose when you surround yourself with killers...you need a killer of killers just to maintain order." Then he added, "Looks like his current loss of revenue has put him into deep debt with Vampire Elder Beraad."
"Annnd...what does that mean, exactly?" Caleb asked.
Joey signed, "It means that he needs this just as badly as we do. Even more so, to be honest."
"The job? I mean, this is really strange. He's got a class SEVEN Hunter working for him right now? What the heck would he need us for?"
Joey looked closer at his notes, and let them know, "I guess he must have run into a class eight..." Pointing to the screen, showing another blotch of big red letters. 'Out Of Commission'.
"How is that even possible?" Nathan asked, and Joey worked his way around some more of the digital blocks that were being put in his way to get access to some more of the security footage from one of Soren's most popular casinos and warehouses. One of them, an extremely distant camera feed that was blurry at best...showed one of Soren's warehouses practically being torn down from the inside out. He was under full assault, and as Joey did all he could to clean up the footage, he saw only one assailant walking into that place. All by himself. No back up or reinforcements of any kind. And he didn't look as though he was any older than the three of them as far as his crossover was concerned.
With both boys looking over Joey's shoulder, squinting their eyes to see what they could from the distorted recording, Caleb asked, "Who's the blond kid?"
Joey shrugged his shoulders.
"He's cute!" Nathan and Caleb said in unison. "Jinx!" They shared a grin and a fist bump, but Joey seemed to be a little suspicious about what was going on there, and why it led to Soren needing them so badly to pull off a job without any clearly defined details or advanced strategies going in. Hell, they didn't even really know what they were looking for yet.
Nathan said, "This Soren guy seems to have made an enemies list full of some real heavy hitters. Are we sure that we know what we're going to be up against when we walk in there?" Joey slowly shook his head, hoping to find some more intel...but coming up empty from the point of Soren's entire business being destroyed. It's obvious that he suffered a pretty heavy loss. And when it comes to the Elders losing revenue, they're not known for being all that forgiving. That places Soren in a place of possible desperation...and Joey didn't like that. Not at all.
Desperation makes people unpredictable. And his team didn't get their reputation from being sloppy about the details of who they were working for.
"You having second thoughts about all this?" Caleb asked, and Joey didn't answer right away. He still wanted to see if he could look at things from a new angle and figure this whole thing out.
"It's no worries. We're heavy hitters too." Nathan smirked, looking at Joey's notebook. "It looks like I'm just going to have to be the muscle on this operation. I can handle it."
Staring at the rampant destruction of the warehouse on the screen, Caleb said, "Well...you know...I'm actually the muscle. But I'm sure I could hold them off until you get inside."
Nathan turned to look at him. "I can bring some muscle when I need to."
Caleb responded with, "Well...yeah. You can bring SOME muscle. I'm just sayin'..."
"What are you saying, exactly?"
"Nothing. It's no biggie."
"Are you saying I don't have muscle?" Nathan asked.
"Yeah. But you said that you were THE muscle of the team. That's different."
"I can't be the muscle?"
"Well, technically, you're more, like...the stealth guy..." Caleb answered.
"Stealth guys can have muscle too. Don't get it twisted."
"Nothing's getting twisted. You just...you're the stealth guy. You're supposed to avoid using muscle. I'm the one who's supposed to engage the enemy and deliver the beat down."
"This is about the job tonight, isn't it?" Nathan said.
"Well...I mean, for somebody who's practically invisible, we could have been a lot more subtle with our approach. That's all I'm saying. I didn't expect you to basically set off the fireworks ahead of time."
"The guy blew cigarette smoke in my FACE! You know I can't stand smoke!"
"Yeah, well, it is what it is." Caleb shrugged.
"You almost got delivered a pretty vicious beat down yourself, kiddo. Maybe you're not as agile as you think you are. Getting old on us?"
"What are you talking about? I'm better than ever."
"I beg to differ. Some 'muscle' you are for the team."
"You wanna see muscle? Do ya?" Caleb lifted up the front of his shirt. "You see these abs? Huh? That's muscle!"
Nathan lifted his shirt as well. "Are you trying to compare abs? Seriously? Look at MY abs! Munch on those Ravioli folds, bitch."
The boys moved closer together. "You call those abs? Look at my stomach."
"Look at MY stomach!"
"Seriously, are you seeing these abs?" Caleb grinned.
"Are you comparing your abs to MY abs?" Nathan giggled. "No contest. You should have worked out before your crossover, buddy. Because compared to my abs, you don't have any abs."
Suddenly, Joey slapped his hand down several times on the bell to get the other boys to hush up. He then spun around in his chair and signed the words, "Neither ONE of you have abs! Ok? Now, can we focus here???"
His two talons were quiet for a brief moment, and Caleb said, "Wow. That's just damn rude, Joey."
With Nathan adding, "I know, right? What the hell, man?"
Joey reached over to hand each of them a folder. Inside were the extra details of their mission and layouts of the compounds, as well as the security guard schedules that Soren had mentioned to them before. He divided the information in half, giving one part to Caleb and the other part to Nathan. He signed, "Nathan, I want you to look for points of entry that might not be displayed on the map, and search for weaknesses that we might be able to exploit, going in. I also want you to find alternate exit strategies in case we run into trouble." Then he turned to Caleb, signing, "Caleb, I need you to find the ports of least resistance and make a list of when and where the security details overlap. I'm sure that Hunters are going to be involved, and probably more than one. A shipment like this, along with other important materials, is going to have vampires wanting to have their own personal soldiers there when it comes to retrieving the goods. If we're going to have a fight on our hands...I want to know about it ahead of time." That's when Joey let them know, "I want your reports ready before dawn. We're heading out for on site recon during Twilight hour tomorrow. I'm thinking that Soren left out more info than he's letting on about. I want us to see it for ourselves."
"You got it, big brother." Nathan said. They both took a hold of their folders, and Nathan saw the bright glimmer of Caleb's shiny braces as he smiled widely in his direction. "What are you so happy about?"
Caleb held up his folder. "See this? This is 'muscle' stuff right here. Hehehe!"
"Oh STOP with the muscle thing, already!"
Joey shook his head, rolling his eyes slightly as he turned back towards his computer screen. Not that he minded the boys' playful nature. It was a part of their charm. He was confident that they'd be ready to go when the time came for them to get serious. No doubts there, whatsoever.
Still, Joey struggled to see what was missing from all of this. There were a few lines of logic that weren't connecting like they were supposed to. He studied the blueprints more closely, and tried to match up the maps with the camera footage he was able to access through the Sector V frequency. They only had three days to gather enough intel and put a game plan together before the shipment arrived. 3 AM, sharp. Contain '619'. But the 18-wheelers were going to be a bit of a challenge.
Why did Soren want them to steal the whole thing? Joey was thinking that he didn't want them popping the back of that trailer open to see what else was inside. That was the most sensible conclusion that he could come up with. But why? Was it big? Was it too heavy to carry? Was it explosive? Or perhaps radiating some kind of harmful energy? Would the Limelight device be well secured in its container, or was that something that they should check on beforehand? So many questions. None that could be answered until Joey and the 'Falcon 3' were there to see it for themselves and secretly survey the compound in its entirety for themselves. Maybe then, he could better wrap his head around this.
He clicked back to the night that Soren's biggest warehouse was being destroyed...and he saw the same blond boy from before, eyes glowing deep red with a fury that he had never seen in another vampire before. And considering that he steals other vampires' most priceless valuables for a living, that's saying a lot. It made him wonder...what could Soren have possibly done to piss somebody off that badly? Someone capable of destroying an entire facility in one night, break a virtual army of some of his best fighters down to the point of being 'out of commission', and would still be able to march in there and hold his own with a level seven Hunter without being slashed to ribbons within the first few seconds of combat? It just seemed so wild that they hadn't heard anything about this before now.
Who could cover up something like that?
Rewinding and enhancing some of the video, more than a couple of times, Joey noticed how truly young the kid in the video was. Not just in the age when he crossed over...but in darkness as well. He had seen experienced Hunters and savage vampire assailants before in the past...but there was something about the way this kid was just...'moving'. He fought like a well trained martial artist, with a list of vampire abilities that looked like it would have taken decades to learn...but upon closer examination, it was almost like he was simply feeding off of pure emotion. And nothing else. In fact, the boy looked to be almost as surprised at his level of skill as Joey was, pulling off techniques and maneuvers that would impress even the most veteran vempirae. It was astonishing, watching him work.
Joey looked away from the screen to see Caleb on his bed, music bumping in his ears, and Nathan sitting back in his easy chair, reading by the light of his fish tank...both of them studying hard for the following night and taking notes of their own as to what roles they would have to play to get close enough to learn more. So Joey figured that he should probably stop focusing on the blond kid and get his head back in the game. Concentrate on Soren. That was the main goal for the evening. Find out where his head is at and what he's thinking. What he needs from the team, and what he needs from this heist. Furthermore, what is it that the Elders are looking to get out of all of this? How does it tie into the attacks on his fighters and his warehouse? Come on, Joey....think! Put the puzzle pieces together before you find yourself stuck in a situation that you don't want to be a part of.
The dawn is approaching. And Raiders wake up early. So we'd better be prepared for whatever comes our way before we head out there tomorrow night. Otherwise...
All of us may not be coming home...