Lights suddenly flashed and then there was pain. His world wobbled and everything grew fuzzy. The ground slowly came up to meet him and hold him close as he dropped. Nausea, shock, and cold overcame him in waves. Like rivers of ice suddenly flowing through his veins, his vision faded to monochrome. As darkness closed over his eyes he got a last fleeting glimpse of his prize in that cavernous room.
Lightning flashed and thunder crashed overhead. Abnormal waves pound the shore and break walls of the bay. A cold North wind blew strongly from the water, whipping the branches of the trees into a frenzy, and cutting through the fabric of the clothing of people walking along the shore.
“So that’s it, then. I can’t believe it!” a man shouted over the wind, looking out to the horizon.
“That’s it, man. It couldn’t believe the reports myself, Michael; they were too fantastic, too intense!” yelled back the second, almost straining to be heard over the maelstrom.
“I didn’t believe you when you first told me,” laughed Michael still focused on the waves. “I doubt I would’ve believed anyone else had they said the same thing!”
In front of these two men stretches the Supreme Lake of the Northern Continent; A colossal fresh water body that had been separated from five, millennia ago, but now stands as a formidable titan for all of the coastal cities. The normal sanguine, green waters frothing and foaming from the unnatural storm, now a grayish monster melding with the blackening sky.
A tree with a loud crash fell to the ground not far from the men, having given under the herculean winds. They did not even notice the sound, this was too momentous. Nor did they notice the trash shooting past them toward the street.
What few ships that are on the waves are all making to shore. Many will be lost. Those that the men can see appear on the verge of capsizing, their masts lurching violently from side to side. Their sails wrapped tight.
“Do you think it means what the news has been saying?”
“I don’t know, Frank. I just don’t know. Let’s get off this beach before the rain comes in.”
Out on the lake lightning flashed in the shadow of an immense, black cloud; The cloud a colossal bulk, a battering ram barreling down on the city. Visible, briefly, through the flashes was a strange island of black stone.
“Welcome to The Sturgeon. Table for two?” a peppy hostess greeted Michael and Frank, as they stepped out of the wind. The warm entry way greeted them nicely; they shook leaves and other refuse out of their clothes and hair.
“Yeah, two, thank you,” replied Frank with a smile.
“Right this way,” the hostess instructed with a grin. She was on the short side and very lean. She was dressed in work slacks and a light blue blouse, both of which highlighted her assets wonderfully.
The two men followed the hostess into the full restaurant. Screens strategically placed allowed maximum visibility from any angle. Ordinarily there would be a game or two on, but not today. Not with the events taking place on the lake. It was unusually quiet; only the clatter of the storm shutters and the wail from the wind audible through the room. Even table ware clinking was at a minimum. It was eerie to say the least.
“…. Historians say that this event should come as no surprise. It has only been a matter of time…” stated a news anchor woman from the screens.
Michael and Frank’s boots clomped loudly through the room as they made their way to the table.
Michael looked out into the dining room, hoping to spot someone he recognized, but to no avail. It was just full of hungry patrons from the wharf. Not that it came to him as much of a surprise, just a habit he’s fallen into after the school closed. Not many of the men and women spoke, and every person was transfixed by the news.
The Sturgeon is a regular hot spot for travelers from the islands coming to the city. It sits right on Lake Shore Dr, directly across from the docks. Though the room is shabby, with worn wooden benches in the booths, and tattered table cloths, the signs of success were everywhere. From the pristine brass lighting fixtures that require no flame to the twenty screens littered throughout the room. Michael noticed it all the first time he came in.
The screens were a new concoction from the Academy of Divine Sciences, and their inventions aren’t cheap. The Academy is a school and research lab on a distant island to the East near the Atlantic Ocean. Much in the way of mystical study goes on behind their walls but not much else. Mysteriously they release new inventions and products to the world. How one ordered some, Michael had no idea, everyone he asked said they just contacted the Academy, but they always neglected to mention how one does such a thing.
The hostess spoke up again. “Leslie will be your server today. She’ll be with you shortly.” And she left them to their table.
“She was kind of cute,” said Frank leaning into the aisle for a better view, his scabbard slipping off his shoulder and bumping the table.
Michael followed Frank’s gaze, and watched the hostess head back to the front passed the bar; her hips swaying and her chestnut colored pony tail swing in time.
“She wasn’t bad,” Michael agreed opening his menu. “Too bad she was out of your league,” he finished with a grin.
Frank sat up with a frown, and shrugged. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he laughed pulling his sword back on and adjusting the strap over his leather jacket and armor. One thing Michael had to admit was that they certainly posed an interesting sight among all of the fisherman.
“… historian Gerard Penton, expert in lost cultures had this to say…”
At that moment the waitress arrived. She was an older woman, not older than forty five but no younger than forty, with a gently lined face and slightly graying hair. Her name tag read Leslie. She kindly took the men’s orders and promptly left. The news report ended at that time and the dining room immediately took on an air of normalcy. The unnerving quiet had passed and conversations resumed.
Michael leaned back in to his booth.
“What do you think is going to happen with all this Frank?” he asked.
“It won’t be good, I can tell you that much.”
“I could’ve figured that out as much. I can’t believe it’s returned in our lifetime,” Michael said. “It seems so surreal.”
“Things are going to change that’s for sure,” replied Frank. He fiddled with his carefully wrapped flat ware, picking at the tape edge that bound it.
Michael looked out the window to their left. The lake was visible just down the hill, as was the beach they had just been on; their footprints not even remotely visible beneath the thrust and pull of the waves. The clouds and storm had only become more ominous; everything beneath it obscured by shadow and rain, the piercing beam from the lighthouse clearly visible through the mists even at this time of day.
The next clap of thunder shook the restaurant, rattling the windows. The first of many rain drops began their pelting of the city. Chicago. The Big Chi; A fitting name for one of the largest cities in the western hemisphere, and incidentally a larger trader of tea.
The storm is going to hamper the rest of the travels of traders today. Michael thought. They’ll probably get the day off. Which means dad will be home.
The merchants that frequented Chicago could afford the new self-powered ships. But the local fisherman, like Michaels father, relied on old fashioned sailing vessels. This storm would ground a lot of ships today.
“Alright! Food!” said Frank hungrily tucking his napkin into his collar so hit hung over his chest plate. Jarring Michael out of his thoughts.
“Here you go gentlemen,” greeted Leslie with a smile.
“A chicken sandwich and seasoned fries for you,” she said setting the plate in front of Frank. He licked his lips hungrily, like the wolf from that old cartoon. “And a seasoned sturgeon filet with fries for you. Everything look okay? Do you want me to bring you anything else?”
“Everything looks great,” Michael replied grabbing his fork.
“Yeah, everyffings dewishush,” Frank replied as well, his mouth already stuffed with food.
The waitress laughed. “Just let me know if there’s anything else I can get for you.”
The men nodded and dug in to their meals. Michael shrugged off his own jacket on to the seat with his own scabbard and dirk. His dirk was very special to him; it was given to him as a parting gift from his close friend Theland, Captain of the Valiant, which he crewed on for several years with Frank. The grip and pommel were curved to fit in a reverse style grip, and was made of a dark mahogany and cherry wood. It was stunning.
After a few minutes of silence broken only by the swig of a drink or the munch of a bite, Michael spoke.
“With the island emerging it’s kind of useless, isn’t it? Work?”
“Yeah I suppose,” Frank said after swallowing fries, his face flecked with bits of sandwich sauce and crumbs. “But someone has to do it. We keep the people safe, that’s important island or no island. Besides it’s fun, it will take our minds off of what’s going on.”
“You’re right,” Michael laughed. “I’m just getting worked up. Let’s finish quickly; we’re going to be late.”
The men finished their meal and left, the restaurant just as full as when they entered. Michael pulled up his hood. The leather blocked the frigid rain.
“Totally worth the extra 30 bucks,” grinned Michael sliding the worn leather hood over his head.
“Yeah, yeah, I should have listened,” Frank replied annoyed. His black hair was already plastered to his head, and his gray eyes squinted to keep out the water. “Let’s get to the gate before our gear rusts.”
They set off at a light run, dodging closed up fish stands along the street to make their way to one of the side side streets.
Chicago was set up in a curved grid pattern branching away from the lake shore and stretching up the mountain side. Lake Shore Drive was the closest major road and all the roads inward toward land curved to match it, creating a half spider web like design. Not super clever, but it made navigating easier. Although with a population of just under two million it still proved a large city, especially with how dense the buildings are.
Many buildings are six to eight stories tall near the wharf, due to high traffic and general merchants. But once past the third “ring” as the main streets are termed, the buildings become shorter to one to two stories. Three if the building is a warehouse or tavern.
The district Michael and Frank were headed was not far from the wharf but with the rain pounding and the foot traffic it became a longer journey than intended. Thankfully, Michael noted, the rain kept most of the panicky people inside making the journey a little easier. But once it lets up they’ll be out in force to stock pile supplies in paranoia.
Thirty or so, soggy minutes later, after leaping huge puddles and dodging carriages, the two men found themselves in front of a quaint looking duplex; one apartment upstairs and one apartment downstairs. The house sat almost directly on the street with no porch so the two men remained on the sidewalk. From the look of things the building was well kept.
“Hey Frank,” Michael called over the rain. “Are you sure this is right, we’re going to a sewer entrance not some old woman’s house.”
The first floor did indeed belong to an old woman. She was staring with suspicion out toward the two men, a cat clutched in her arms.
“I know that,” Frank hollered back. “The entrance is in the basement, or so Roger said. He should be along here at any minute to let us-.”
Frank stopped for a moment as a large automobile drove by splashing the two men with a large gout of water. It was long nosed with a silvery-chrome body. It didn’t really make much of a sound as it went by but the splashes of water off of its wheels sure did.
“Did you see that?!” Frank called over the still pouring rain and shivering.
“See that? I felt that. What a dick, he could have at least tried to avoid the puddle.”
“No I meant the car. I never thought I’d see one in person. It’s completely self-propelled, no horses. I wonder how it works…” Frank trailed off as the vehicle drove out of sight, a large letter A emblazoned on the rear trunk.
“Excuse me!” called a large man under an umbrella. “You two the men I hired to take care of the pests?”
“Are you Roger Collins?” answered Frank suspiciously.
“I am. Why don’t you two come inside out of the torrent,” chuckled Roger.
Michael and Frank followed Roger into the foyer of the duplex, dripping water onto the floor and walls as they shook the water off themselves. The warm air greeted the men like an old friend. It was a well-kept old building with classic wood paneling on the walls and darker tile on the floor. A wooden staircase lead upstairs to the left of the entrance and bent up to the right. A modest but still ornate chandelier hung in the entry way. A door on the right side read A and a door on the back wall beneath the bent staircase read Basement.
Michael looked to Roger. He was dressed in a custom suit and over coat, both black with a silver chain hanging from his pocket, undoubtedly connected to a pocket watch. His face was round and flushed, as if he was a good friend of a drink or two.
“Well, let me take you to it, then,” started Roger toward the basement door wiping his bald head with a handkerchief as he went. The stairs to the basement were very different from what Michael expected. Instead of wood planks they were concrete; thick concrete with a metal ridge along the edge of the step.
“Was this entire house built over the sewer entrance?” asked Michael. “I’m surprised zoning let that happen.”
“It was a long time ago,” responded Roger. “My father greased some palms for the city. The property is ideally placed to see the lake. He could charge more for rent.”
“Ah, clever guy,” responded Michael. Frank was pulling up the rear as the group stopped at the gate.
“Alright,” said Frank. “What do you need us to do? I know we’re pulling pest control, but what other details can you give us.”
Michael looked into Rogers face.
“It’s simple. Get in there. Kill the things and get out,” replied Roger bluntly with a slight shrug.
Frank looked suspicious, but sighed. “Ok, we’re in. You know the usual fee. Two hundred up front.”
Roger handed over the cash. “Happy hunting,” he said and headed toward the stairs.
With the slam of the basement door, and the audible click of the lock Michael looked at Frank.
“That description felt too easy. This won’t be that simple, will it?”
“Well, judging by the fact that he locked the door to upstairs. No, no it won’t.”
Michael sighed tightening his gear. “Nothing ever is. No use waiting around, I guess. Do you want point?”
“Sure,” replied Frank.
The gate was old and heavy, and iron. Definitely an old maintenance gate. But how the pests were getting through was obvious from the rusted through bars at the bottom of the right hand door. The tunnel beyond was pretty large and dark. Moisture dripped from the cracking stone walls and ran into a center grate in the floor. The tunnel descended into the mountainside behind the duplex. Distant rushing water could be heard.
Frank drew a lantern, lit it and headed toward the sound of water with Michael right behind. As the men descended the jingle of their gear and armor echoed off the walls. The clomp of their boots resounded deep and echoed past them down toward the water. With the strange drum beat driving them they cautiously moved on.
Minutes passed as they descended toward the sound of water and it wasn’t long before the scent of sewage met their nostrils. Not long after that they were in the main channel; a cavern of a sewer that ran the length of Chicago. Both ends end at special facilities off the lake. Many off shoots bring sewage from streets away creating a root system of tunnels beneath the city. The main channel has steel bridges crossing the flowing water, and is illuminated from man holes at the apex of the arched ceiling; A long catwalk with periodically spaced latters lead up to the manholes.
Along the channel were two huge walk ways, littered with trash and random debris from squatters and residence of buildings above. There were many crates some shattered some whole, and some full and some empty. Papers were piled and littered everywhere, faded papers from any number of different sources. For how clean the city claimed it was the amount of trash down in the sewer was quite surprising. But Michael wasn’t focused on that at the moment.
“Shit,” he exclaimed. “Where are we supposed to start looking?”
“No idea,” responded Frank closing his lamp. Across the bridge in front of them there was a clash of metal on stone. “I suppose we can start there.”
Frank drew his long sword and started across the bridge at a run, his empty scabbard bouncing off his back with a muffled clink against his back plate. Michael drew his dirk and followed suit. Dim light reflected on to their clothing as they ran across.
There was a flash of movement down a side tunnel.
“There!” pointed Michael and he charged ahead down the tunnel.
“Keep on your guard!” Frank shouted.
The two men pounded off the metal grate beneath their feet. This tunnel was smaller than the one they entered, so they ran single file. The tunnel widened suddenly and the men stopped. They came to a long room, the entire floor a grate with a pool of shimmering, green sewage beneath a single man hole nestled in the ceiling painting the center of the room in light and leaving the rest in darkness. It was chillier in here than the large cavern. The walls here looked much older than the tunnel they had come from, an original sewage chamber.
All around the room there is evidence of something living in this room, papers and ripped cloth piled in a corner, a few empty bottles and crates, and a pile of bones. Human bones.
“I don’t remember hearing about any disappearances around here. Do you?”
“Not a one.”
It was a large pile of bones too. Many with scraps of flesh dried and still clinging to them. A child’s skull was perched on top.
This is messed up. No ‘pest’ did this. This is something else, Surveyed Michael. But there’s nothing here.
Dust motes drifted slowly through the light beam of the manhole. Water dripped on the corner on to the grate. The temperature was much colder than Michael thought down here. Their breath hung in white clouds in front of their faces. Michael shivered. Frank slowly moved into the space. The only sounds were the water and the noises of carriages and people up on the street above them, and an infrequent drip drip of water. This must be beneath an alley.
“There’s nothing here,” Frank said finally trying to see past the gloom. “Let’s go back.”
The men turned to leave, when they heard a laugh.
“Now, where do you think you’re going boy?”
The voice stopped him in his tracks. His breath caught in his throat. Michael had never heard such a twisted voice. But what he saw next filled his body with iron.
The man, no, the creature, for it was certainly no longer a man, that he was dead certain stood in the shadows behind the beam of light, remaining enough in the shadow that he was hard to see. As Michael turned completely around the creature spoke again, its voice still as chilling as last time.
“You don’t really think you can just leave do you?” the creature asked stepping into the light. “I need you to sate my hunger.”
The creature’s voice was unusually high and raspy for his size, much like his uncle who had smoked Bac until late into his life, but unlike his Uncle this thing’s voice was pure menace.
The creature now illuminated, its mere physical presence sent another wave of fear over Michael. Its skin was a dark ash gray and pulled tight over the muscles and bones, giving it very much the appearance of a mummy unwrapped. It was dressed in a raggedy shirt with sleeves ripped off at the shoulders; Michael was unsure of its original color, possibly red, but wear and tear had left it faded and gray in the light. It was also wearing tight jeans or slacks without knees and wore old brown leather ankle boots. Its hair was long and raised on its head much like the quills on a porcupine but looser, not as stiff. But its face was the worst part. Its eyes were dark pits with slightly glowing orbs of light where the pupils and irises would be. The rest was black. Where the nose should have been was just taught skin pulled over the split spade like hole of the nasal bone.
Its grin was just twisted and psychotic. Then it laughed again.
“Yes. You’ll do nicely.”
Michael made a break for the tunnel but the creatures speed was too much and he was easily overcome. The creature made it to the tunnel entrance and separated Michael from Frank, it then back handed Michael into the wall hard, knocking the breath out of him and sent his dirk skittering across the grating. Michael was at a loss for words and couldn’t think straight, he was still in shock from the thing before him. Thankfully the cold numbed is face so it didn’t hurt much. Michael heard a fist hit flesh and a grunt of pain, then a body hitting the grate.
Before he could try to calm down and gather his wits the creature was on him. The creature kicked Michael hard in the ribs bouncing him off the wall and then gripped him with its claws and flipped Michael over its back on the metal grate of the floor; knocking the wind out of him in a large cloud of white. The claws ripped through his shirt and into his skin as he was thrown to the ground. His armor ringing through his jacket, Michael landed square beneath the hole in the room’s ceiling. Michael glimpsed Frank against the wall on the floor.
The creature stalked over and squatted over Michael’s prone body. And laughed again; its head in shadow with the eyes glowing like old coals in its head. It’s grin wide and sinister.
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Eddie and you’re blood, your heart, and your soul, are mine.”
As the creature laughed again, the world for Michael seemed to slow and he felt a presence push on his mind and break through some unknown mental barrier. Suddenly there was clarity. A clarity Michael had never experienced before. It was if he could see the fabric of the creatures being. There was the creatures form in the center and to the right was a pale human form and to the left was a black silhouette with the creatures wide grin. And a whisper deep in his mind. Like the voice of some long dormant might.
“It is time”
All of this happened in the blink of an eye. The clarity seemed to fade away as the creature leaned down to feast. He saw a figure move over it from behind.
“Hello Eddie. My name is Frank. And you are now my bitch.” Then there was gore. Frank stabbed Eddie straight through his neck, spraying Michael in a black-red fountain of blood. Michael shook his head to clear it as Eddie jerked back and grasped at his throat. Gasping and gurgling. Michael scrambled over to his knife just as Frank was about to stab Eddie a second time. But before Frank could land the blow Eddie dodged inhumanely fast; ducking beneath the Frank’s blade and punching him square in the stomach forcing him back into the wall.
“Now, that’s not very nice,” growled Eddie. “Guests shouldn’t attack their host, especially when they’re the main course!”
Eddie lunged into Frank and repeatedly began pummeling him in his face and chest. Michael, having regained his dirk, dashed in and tried to stab Eddie in the side. However, Eddie supernaturally dodged again. Michael kept up his attacks on Eddie, determined to back him away from Frank.
We’re completely out matched here.
Michael decided to change the rhythm of the attacks: to the chest, to the leg, to the chest, the right arm, left arm, the head, and so on, after one particular swing Michael over extended taking a knee to the stomach. Michael clutched his stomach gasping for air, and dropped to his knees. He felt a clawed hand grasp the back of his jackets collar, but it immediately let go and Eddie let loose a painful screech. Frank had lunged and stabbed Eddie in the forearm, severing several tendons.
“Come on, stand up Michael,” urged Frank still on guard against Eddie. Eddie now paced the outside of the room.
Frank grabbed Michael by the elbow and helped him up.
“What do we do Frank? He’s too fast,” whispered Michael then quickly grabbed his dirk again, looking to Frank.
“I don’t really think we have time for that right now, Michael,” he replied tersely and nodded indicating Eddie.
Both men stared at Eddie as he paced, cradling his injured arm. As the two men watched the muscles and tendons wriggled beneath Eddies pale flesh and the wound healed leaving just a faint dark gray scar.
“We have to attack him at once,” realized Michael. “He’s fast but he can’t be in two places at once. You go high, I’ll go low.”
The two men pounced. Frank thrusting toward Eddie’s head and Michael slashing at Eddie’s stomach and legs. Furiously the two men lunged and slashed, Eddie dodging most but getting hit none-the-less. Eventually they hit Eddie solidly. Frank aimed a jab straight for Eddie’s face; mid back step Michael slashed his dirk across Eddie’s thighs. Eddie dropped and Frank brought his blade home straight through Eddie’s skull, pinning him to the floor- the blade slipping out through the grate. Eddie screamed in pain his rasping voice rising in pitch to an animalistic roar. Eddie jerked and twitched then laid still.
Frank withdrew his sword and wiped the blade on Eddie’s pants. Michael did the same and sheathed his dirk in his back scabbard.
“You all right?” asked Michael after a moments panting; white clouds puffing through the air.
“I think so,” chuckled Frank. “Some pest problem, my left nut. I’m charging Roger double, this is bullshit. I need some Bac.”
“Let’s get back to the surface, I need some air.”
The two men made their way back through the tunnel to the main channel. With Eddie dead the air became much warmer.
As they walked toward the entrance tunnel Michael turned to Frank.
“What in hades was that thing?” he asked. “A ghoul?”
“I have no idea,” Frank answered. “Ghoul’s aren’t smart like that thing was, they’re mindless- flesh craving monsters. This thing, Eddie, was far too smart.”
The main channel soon came into view and the area grew brighter. Despite the trash and terrible smell Michael was glad to be here, rather than back in Eddie’s layer. The manholes above shone brightly, casting pleasant shadows on to the channels side walkways and bridges. The water reflecting it into dancing lights upon the ceiling, after having faced evisceration this place seemed nice; as nice as a sewer can be anyway.
Without warning the strange sense of clarity fell upon Michael again. It felt as if a sudden pressure was placed on his head and his ears. The world took on a slight purple hew yet bringing every detail into sharp focus. He stumbled and dropped to a knee. Everything felt slower.
“Michael,” stated Frank “Why’d you stop?”
To Michael, Frank sounded as if he was underwater or miles away. He could hear his heartbeat in his ears, the water quietly rushing beside him. Michael could feel something approaching, something wrong. Before Frank even realized what was about to happen, in one fluid motion, Michael spun, drew his dirk and hurled it end over end toward the tunnel Frank and he had just come from. As he let go of the dirk he saw Eddie sprinting full tilt around the corner and toward them with a deadly quiet. Everything seemed to go slower as the dirk flew. Surprise had barely begun its crawl across Eddie’s face as the dirk drove itself into it.
Eddie had been mid leap to tackle Frank from behind, 30 feet away, and the force of the blow drove Eddie’s head back but his body kept going. Eddie flipped back ward smashing the back of his head against the concrete and bouncing into a forward tumble that carried Eddie past the two men. Eddie landed on his back and slid before coming to a rest. All of which happened faster than Frank could realize.
Eddie lay sprawled on his back disoriented and groaning form his whiplash and bouncing off the stone.
“You didn’t honestly think you could win, did you?” Michael asked calmly as he approached the stunned Eddie. Michael’s voice not quite his own. “Blades may not kill but I know what will.”
Stomping a foot onto Eddie’s chest to hold him down, Michael turned to Frank.
“I need the lantern.”
Frank handed Michael the lantern, a look of utter bewilderment on his face. Michael pulled the lighting stone from the base and handed the case back to Frank.
Michael gazed in contempt down upon Eddie, fear burning in Eddie’s eyes.
“There is only one bringer of death, “he whispered. In a swift movement Michael stepped back and smashed the stone down onto Eddie and shouted: “Now burn!”
Eddie was immediately consumed by the fire of the lighting stone, the energy contained being released at once. Eddie roared. As he burned the two halves of Eddie reappeared. The human side simply faded, but the black silhouette with its mouth opened in a roar burst into a black smoke.
The clarity faded and without a word Michael wrapped his hand, grabbed his dirk and walked out to the entrance. Frank following dumbfounded behind him. Both men not glancing back to the pile of ash smoldering on the ground.
Michael and Frank reached the surface after a while, the gate to the basement still wide open. The lamp in the ceiling providing a dim beacon. The men kept silent and ascended the stairs. Michael in the lead, banged on the door and it opened.
“Job all done?” asked Roger with a smile. “To be honest, I didn’t expect you to be back so soon.”
“Roger…” started Michael clenching his fists.
“Roger,” Frank cut in. “You lying cheat. Some pest problem my ass. You didn’t tell us we would have to fight a monster. That costs you triple.”
“How dare you insult me,” said Roger taken aback. “I had no idea what was the problem. I was sincere when I said it was pests.”
“Oh save it,” Frank fired back. “You knew full well it wasn’t just some pest, not when locals start disappearing. Triple, Roger. And never contact us again, or I will personally come here and make sure you do not make that mistake again.”
Roger growled and cursed under his breath, but handed over triple the pay.
The two men left the duplex and stepped outside into the street. The weather had calmed a considerable degree. Although chillier than a typical late May after noon, it had at least stopped raining. The clouds could be seen cresting the mountains to the Northwest.
As predicted many people were hurrying to buy supplies to stock up, and panicking. Many fathers still in their business attire rushing with their wives and children to the market several blocks over. Many carriages passed with crates tied to the roof labeled dry foods and bedding. It was much louder out here than the tunnels had been; the sudden noise difference hurt Michael’s ears. Still in silence, Michael turned to walk home. Which was a few blocks away.
“What was that, Michael? You completely changed. I’ve never seen you do anything like that before, not when we sailed on the Valiant, or anything.”
“I don’t know.”
Frank fell into silence at Michaels reply, and they kept walking. Frank lit up a stick of Bac.
The weather had done some damage to the buildings along the streets the two men walked. Large tree branches and random detritus littered the main thoroughfare, creating obstacles that backed up the now increasing traffic. Yet no one seemed to have the presence of mind to hop off the driver’s seat of their respective carriage to move any of it. Many houses were missing shingles and more than a few storm shutters had busted loose during the gale, and were hanging by a hinge at strange angles. Many shutters littered peoples’ front yards. But no one bothered with any of that yet, restocking was too important for what could potentially come.
The horses and carriages rattled by on the cobblestones, people walking together parted for the two men. The wind had warmed up; it blowed softly through the trees rustling the newly grown leaves. The scent was heaven compared to the sewage and gore stench of the channel. People were opening the storm shutters on their homes, and scents of cooking wafted through the air from the open windows. The men kept walking ignoring the curious and horrified glances of the people passing them.
Being covered in ichor and bearing weapons says a lot about a person these days. Michael reflected. In the big cities, Michael had been to a few, weapons are oft only seen on guardsmen or soldiers, or the occasional seaman. Most freelance mercenaries don’t arm up and simply walk around, especially not when people are about in droves. It tended to cause a panic, but people were already panicked. Walking made no difference than calling a cab. In the country weapons are more common place with the presence of highwaymen and bandits about.
Michael and the rest of the Sheffield Slayers, the band of mercenaries he worked for, always made a point to stay off of the streets if a job took them into the city. Standing out is bad with such a stigma of mercenaries and soldiers around.
“I don’t know what happened, Frank.” Michael finally said softly. “I wish I could explain it. It was as if I could finally see for the first time. Everything was so clear.”
“You were incredible yet terrifying,” answered Frank after a while, Michael’s apartment building coming into view, across the street. “The way you ended Eddie…. I can’t say kill because you did more than that, you ended him. You broke him. It was powerful, you had this presence. Like you couldn’t be stopped. I was afraid you would attack me next, for a second. It was like something you’d hear in a campfire legend, you know?”
He laughed a little.
“I’d never hurt you, Frank, you’re my best friend,” Michael replied with a smile.
“I know,” laughed Frank. “But still, you had to see yourself. It was awe-inspiring. You could stop the Wiscon Raiders with that presence.”
“The Wiscon Raiders, huh? I’ll have to remember that,” said Michael, crossing the boulevard.
“Yeah, man! You basically said ‘Fuck You’ to Eddie’s existence. That’s hardcore. The Raiders would be mincemeat if you could fight like that against them.”
“Well this is it,” said Michael stopping in front of a tan and brown brick building. “Do you want to come up for a little while for a beer or something?”
“No thanks, man. I want to go home and get out of this gear, it reeks. And I need a shower,” answered Frank tugging at his now crusty shirt, beneath his chest plates.
“Alright,” laughed Michael. “I’ll see you later.”
Michael headed inside and up the three floors to his apartment. There were two apartments per floor. His overlooked the street on the third floor, apartment 3A. The apartment hallways, as per usual, smelled like cat pee and bad cooking. But it’s a cheap place and better than most, once one gets into the apartments anyway. He had a single bedroom place. It had a nice sized living room and dining room, with a full kitchen and a counter top open to the dining room. The wood floor was old but the carpet in the bedroom was new, the paint needs a touch up but it’s a decent place. And the view from the third floor is great. It looks straight out over the city. Albeit through an alley way and over a few buildings, but the city and lake are visible.
Michael stripped off his gore encrusted boots by the door and moved into the dining room, the once roughed dark brown leather splotched with black and red. He pulled off his belt and pouches, and laid them on the table with his dirk and scabbard. He pulled off his brown leather jacket and set it on the back of the head chair. Unbuckling he then removed the armor plates; a moderate sized back plate, two chest pieces, and a belly plate; Just enough to protecting him from large hits. He wearily moved into the bathroom to freshen up.
Gazing into the mirror, he was a mess. His moderate length brown hair was matted down and black with dried blood. He had scratches on his face and neck from Eddie’s claws. His face was covered in dirt and blood as well as his shirt and pants. The shirt and pants were ruined so he stripped out of them and threw them into the trash bin. His facial hair was also matted down, his goatee crunchy and pointed.
“I have to remember to take that out,” Michael muttered with disgust, already the small tiled room filling with the stench of ichor.
He stripped down and took a shower. The warm water felt nice, and the soap stung the cuts and gashes, but he was clean. He let the hot water run down his chest and back, and through his hair for what felt like ages. The evidence of the fight today only hinted at by the cuts on his face and chest. No residue even left in the tub. He stepped out a while later, grabbed a towel and went into the bedroom. Walking past the bed, to his right he threw open both windows and basked in the breeze and the scent of fresh air. The green curtains shifted lightly in the breeze. He could hear his neighbors across the gangway, their screen softly through the open window. He checked his night stand clock to see that it was only three in the afternoon. He met Frank at the beach at ten.
It’s felt much longer than five hours, he reflected.
He shuffled over to his low dresser next to the door, a remnant from his days at home with his folks. Opening the drawers, he dressed in a light shirt and sweatpants, and flopped down on his bed, the fluffy comforter kissing his bare skin lightly. Also a gift from home, his buckskin comforter, he received it as a going away gift to school.
Lying on his bed his eyes drifted closed, he was exhausted. Not even thirty seconds passed before he fell into sleep.
A scrap of a news report was heard through the open window.
“… as previously thought. It has been confirmed: The Island of the Fourth Horseman has risen…”