Deputy Sheriff Justin Stone moved with swift silence through the trees bordering the abandoned farm on the outskirts of the small town of Witchhaven. The only sounds he could hear came from the night creatures, the men in and around the farm's largest barn and the soft breathing of himself and his partner as they moved into position.
The night before, two of Witchhaven's citizens had disappeared. Their kidnappers had been tracked down and now it was up to the two Deputies to create a diversion so the Sheriff and the tracker could get the prisoners safely out. As he moved into the shadows to await the order to move, Justin remembered all the other times when he had created similar diversions. Which, as it always did, made him remember other things.
London, England, 1794
The infamous London Fog moved like a shadowy wraith through the streets. The man who stepped unsteadily from the tavern blinked with bleary eyes at the writhing tendrils before he shrugged to himself and began to weave his way along the street, into the fog. He was drunk, but not so drunk that the wayward mist would cause him to lose his way. He knew London and he had traversed her streets through the fog many a time before. Besides, if truth be known, he didn't particularly care if he did lose his way. He had nothing to go back to, not now.
The man was about halfway home when he saw a figure ahead of him. The fog seemed to part before her even as it wound around her legs, caressing her with its touch. The man blinked but the figure remained before him. A silent figure gowned in black beneath a long black hooded cape. A woman, the man dimly realised. He stopped in confusion as the drink played with his mind. For a moment, he thought it was his Nancy. But no, he remembered suddenly why it could not be and the grief that had driven him to drink that night returned in full force. He closed his eyes, then opened them, hoping to see no sign of the grim spectre. The man got his wish for the figure was gone from before him. Yet even as he started forward again, a low voice, soft and rich like velvet but with a curiously musical lilt to it, came to his ears through the fog. A voice he strained to hear even as his mind shied away in terror, horror, at the word it spoke.
"No! No I didn't kill her! Someone else did! Not me! I loved her!"
"Yet you beat her. That night you beat her. You were supposed to protect her, yet you beat her enough that she ran to escape you. Ran out into the night. Ran to her death."
"No... no it's... it's not true..." The man was sobbing now, as his mind burned with the memory of the night a fortnight earlier. Burned with the doubts that had risen in his mind at the time and which had been smoldering there ever since. The doubts which the woman's voice had just put into words.
"Oh, but it is true."
"What do you want? What do you want from me?" The man turned, his face a mask of tearstreaked anguish as he peered into the fog, trying to find the source of the voice.
When the nightwatch found him, he was curled up in a tight ball near the mouth of the alley where his wife had been found two weeks before. The men of the nightwatch tried to pull him to his feet and he did not resist. In fact, he was so limp and still that they ended up half carrying, half dragging him away. He kept muttering one thing over and over again.
The men of the nightwatch traded knowing glances at each other. They knew that term all too well. They'd been hearing it for the past few months. Ever since they had begun finding men cowering in alleys or on streets. Ever since someone had begun seeking retribution for women whom had been wronged in some way. To the women of the city, she was a heroine, brave and daring and strong and swift. To the men of the city, she was known as Nemesis.
That same night, on the other side of the city, a young man dressed as a gentleman intercepted the nightwatch that patrolled those streets. The moment they saw the way he kept looking over his shoulder as he crossed the street towards him, they traded knowing glances at each other. He had the look about him. Part fearful, and part relieved. They weren't in the least surprised when the young man spoke in a hurried, nervous yet polite tone.
"I'm a cat burglar. I admit it. Please arrest me."
As two of the watchmen escorted him to the watch house, the other two looked at each other.
"Looks like Justice has had a busy time of it."
"Aye, that was the third one tonight."
The men resumed their patrol, secure in the knowledge that they were not alone in watching over the city and her people.
On the roof of a nearby building, there was a fleeting impression of movement in the shadows.
A few nights later, the swirling fog once again veiled the streets of London as a small man walked quickly down a narrow side street. To the undiscerning eye, the man would appear to be an ordinary fellow thinking his own thoughts, as he was apparently unconcerned with anything going on around him. Only someone familiar with the darker professions would have noticed the way the man's narrowed eyes darted from side to side as he kept constant vigilance. The pickpocket waiting in the shadows of a nearby alley for an easy mark noticed it and immediately shrunk back against the wall, careful to stay silent and still as the man passed by. When the man had gone, the pickpocket quickly scurried away to another alley, just in case.
The woman noticed both the pickpocket's retreat and the man's furtive watching, but she disregarded it as mere fear. It pleased her to think that the man was afraid. Most likely afraid of her.
"That's right. Just a little further now. Come this way. Come to me." Her voice practically crooned the words as she watched her prey draw ever nearer. Finally though, he was in place. She stepped out of the alley where she had been waiting and allowed the fog to veil her movements while she stalked the man.
She was so intent on her plan that she never noticed the flicker of movement in the shadows in the alley opposite her own.
The small man stopped short when he saw her step from the fog before him. The smallest of smiles crossed his face, but was swiftly disguised by a false gasp. She moved nearer, her steps silent on the worn stone even without the sound-deadening fog.
Knowing how she worked, the man pretended to plead. His act was convincing enough and she moved in. Only when she spoke again, reciting the deed he had done the week before, did he make his move. Suddenly, the woman found herself on the ground, breathless from the unexpected attack. She looked up into the small man's eyes and knew a moment's fear as a small knife came into view. The man placed it against her neck. She stared him straight in the eye, refusing to show the fear that was steadily growing within her. She would not give him that satisfaction!
The man allowed his smile release now. It was a cruel twist of his lips calculated to freeze men's blood. It had no effect on his victim however. She had perfected that look herself long ago. The man started to speak, and then he was gone!
The woman blinked, startled as the constricting weight and the sharp knife were suddenly removed from her. She looked up and froze as her eyes widened in shock.
His legs were braced apart, his stance relaying confidence and power. His muscular thighs, as thick as tree trunks, were barely disguised by the loose black leather breeches he wore from waist to knee. His chest was bare, revealing a muscular expanse of tawny tan. His only other clothing was the dark golden-brown cloak he wore, hooked around his neck with a curious linked-claw style clasp. One arm was bent, hand resting casually on hip, while the other, muscles bulging with strength, was straight out. He was holding the small man suspended in midair, caught by his shirt collar. But it was his face that surprised the woman the most.
His forehead was high and golden-brown hair cascaded in tousled waves from the well-defined widow's peak to just below his wide shoulders. His features were even and, although individually they were merely average, they combined to form a face that would haunt the dreams of any woman who saw it. Despite his size, there was a look of youth about his face, although it was not reflected in his eyes, which seemed to glow in the faint moonlight. They held an age of wisdom in their golden depths even as they pierced right through to the soul of the one unfortunate enough to meet their steady gaze. The small man squirmed. The stranger spoke, his voice a soft yet pleasantly deep rumble with a thread of controlled steel running through it. The man grew still.
"You'll not succeed this night. Nor any other. Not while I watch over this city. You have a choice to make. Hand yourself over to the men of the watch, admitting your guilt of all your crimes and accept the punishment for them, or I will hunt you down and administer my own brand of justice."
The woman sneered slightly. She had never heard anything more self-righteous in all her travels. Yet the effect the words had on the man was immediate and astounding. He gave a swift, single nod but made no sound or no move until the stranger set him down. Then he turned and hurried off towards the main thoroughfare where the men of the nightwatch usually patrolled. The woman blinked, too surprised to think of going after him immediately. By the time she came to her senses and thought of it, he was already out of sight.
She snarled and scrambled to her feet, turning so she faced the stranger head on. Her fury blazed from her large sea-green eyes as she brought her head up sharply so she could glare at him. The movement caused the hood of her cloak to shift. It fell back, revealing luxuriant tresses that sprung from the confines of the hood to flow down her back in waves of rippling black silk that reached below her waist. The stranger's golden eyes widened in surprise. The woman smiled inwardly, pleased at the reaction but choosing to ignore the faint twinge of disappointment that coloured the pleasure. He was just like any normal man, attracted by her appearance. But then again, she hadn't expected anything different. After all, she had never met anyone able to resist the beauty she had inherited from her mother. Long black hair, flashing green eyes, ruby red lips, delicate colouring and finely sculptured features, all combined to make her irresistible to men. Just like a Siren should be. Even one who was half mortal.
For a moment, they stood in the empty street, sea green gaze meeting golden gaze without fear. For a moment, she forgot what she had been planning that night. Forgot that the one standing before her had ruined those same plans. But only for a moment.
"How dare you!" her voice was little more than a low hiss. "How dare you interfere! How dare you allow him to simply walk away! You have no idea what you have just done! You fool! You have set a murderer free to continue his crimes!" The stranger raised one eyebrow and regarded her for a long moment while she sought to regain control over her always volatile temper.
"He will not be free for long. Even as we speak he is placing himself into the custody of the night watch. By dawn he will have admitted to every crime he has ever committed." As the woman sneered, contempt flashing into her eyes, he continued. "You were partly right about one thing though. He is a murderer. An assassin in fact. He came tonight to ply his trade. You were his target. Take care Nemesis. It appears you have an enemy." The woman gasped and the stranger turned and started walking down the street and into the fog, leaving her to her thoughts. Only after he had vanished did she realise that although she had not learned his name, he had already known hers.
Know thy enemy. It was a creed Nemesis lived by. Usually she gained her information in seedy little taverns and dark alleyways, but this time the information came to her. Relentlessly. Every time she walked the streets, he would appear. Every man she stalked, he caught first. Every plan of retribution she began, he would interrupt in some manner. Each time she saw him, she grew more annoyed with him. Each time he saw her, he had some sort of warning for her. He learned her ways, but she also learned his. They had many a conversation in many a dark street, always with the same theme. She saw her work as retribution; he saw it as vengeance. He saw his work as justice; she saw it as naiveté. Each tried to change the other's mind; each tried to make the other see their point of view. Neither was willing to change their ways. Neither was willing to admit they both wanted the same thing. To protect the innocent and ensure that the guilty were punished.
Justin Stone shifted slightly as he waited for the right time to move. His thoughts twirled through their dance of memory and he smiled slightly. It was funny how time could change things. His partner, as impatient as ever, tapped his shoulder. Justin turned his head, a lock of his golden-brown hair falling over one golden eye at the movement. Sea green eyes flashed with a mixture of impatience, amusement and tenderness as Deputy Marina Blade brushed his hair back for him in a swift movement, which had become instinctive over the years.
"Come on dreamer, its time to move." Her low melodious voice swept over him like rich velvet and he smiled slightly as he nodded. Standing up, they moved back slightly, away from the edge of the small forest where they might be seen too soon.
Justin closed his eyes and spoke the words he had learned shortly after their arrival in Witchhaven one year earlier. Even as he felt the magic flow over him, he could hear Marina's voice rising in soft clear notes as she worked her own transformation. For her it was simple enough. Although she was half Siren, she was also half Mortal and so her form was always the same. She did not have the shapeshifting abilities that some other Sirens did. The songspell she used to switch her appearance was merely a matter of cosmetic changes, doing in a few moments what it would take her an hour or so to do without it. For Justin, it was not so simple.
Fortunately, the Clan that lived there had made him welcome in the county and they had been happy to share their secrets and spells with him. Without the Change spell, he would never have been able to accept the Sheriff's offer to become a deputy. Even though Sheriff Patterson knew the truth about both Justin and Marina, as did the rest of the citizens of Witchhaven County, there were certain limitations to his natural form. There were times when a Deputy Sheriff just had to move around in daylight for example. Besides which, as a human he was whole. In his natural form...
The cry sounded through the militia. "There's a creature approaching from the forest!" They swarmed outside, prepared to capture the creature if possible, destroy it if not. They weren't prepared for what they saw.
The powerful Gargoyle swooped down on them, his golden-brown hair streaming behind him, his golden eyes glowing in the moonlight, his dark golden-brown wings held out to either side, allowing him to catch the air currents and ride them effortlessly. Only when the men began to aim their weapons did his wings begin to beat, allowing him to maneuver through the night sky. The men didn't even bother to fire, they knew they could never hit him. He made sure to keep beyond their range.
From within the wood, a song began to weave down to the men. While their attention was focused on the Gargoyle flying above them, the song was able to slip inside their minds and work the singer's will. One by one, the men fell sound asleep.
Nemesis stepped from the shadows of the woods and made her way down to the farm. As the times had changed, so too had her style. The black gown and hooded cape had been replaced several times, her current style consisting of black leggings teamed with mid-calf boots and, when on duty, a skintight black vest that allowed her to move with ease should the need to fight, or handcuff felons, arise. Humming her sleepsong to reinforce the affect and prevent accidental awakening, Nemesis reached around to the back of her belt and unclipped the ten pairs of handcuffs she always kept there for emergencies. She frowned slightly as she surveyed the large number of sleeping men and boys.
"Drat. We'll need more cuffs."
The uneven beating of wings announced the arrival of her partner. Nemesis watched as Justice came in for a landing, frowning slightly when she noticed how much he was favouring his injured wing. Although it had been five years since a silver blade had slashed the wing, he had never completely regained full strength or mobility in it. Considering that Nemesis could hear his wingbeats, she knew that his aerial maneuvers had come at a cost to him. He was breathing heavily when he reached her side.
"How badly hurt are you this time?" Nemesis didn't bother to disguise her annoyance with him. She'd lost track of the number of times she'd told him to rest it more or not to test it's strength so much. Justice, used to her annoyance with him after over 200 years of knowing her, grinned.
"Actually, I'm not hurt at all. I think I might be out of practice though." Nemesis blinked and regarded him suspiciously before dropping the subject. If he were hurt, she'd find out soon enough. In which case no amount of pleading would stop her from using the special salve which Justice complained made him smell like a flower garden. Nemesis smiled at the thought of it and it was Justice's turn to eye her with suspicion.
Before she could bring up the matter of the cuffs, the sound of Police sirens reached their ears. Looking over towards the barn, the two partners saw a large red wolf, an agile fox and a graceful white owl sneak out and head for the hill overlooking the farm. Justice turned to Nemesis.
"I believe that's our cue to change." The Siren agreed and by the time the police backup arrived, Officers Justin Night and Marina Blade were handcuffing the prisoners and arguing over how many pairs of handcuffs a Deputy Sheriff should carry. Once again, the bad guys had been caught, and once again the legend of Justice and Nemesis would continue.