Chapter 6 - Origin: Part 1
Welcome back to my fantasy genre mashup/gothic horror… thing. I needed a couple of months off because writing, for those unaware, is quite a lot of work. I often stay up far too late trying to get ideas out fully formed, for fear of losing the thread of what it was I was writing if I pause. If I’m not writing, then I’m trying to clean up/add notes to the markdown files I use for keeping track of everything. Such is how these things go. I have grand plans for this story and this world, and a lot more story swimming around in my head that I hope to be able to put to words in this digital medium over time.
On a side note, and in a complete coincidence/trick of the The Veil, I got sent to Motreal for work very recently. In the middle of Winter, which was very cold. But it gave me a look at the city I’ve been writing about, and hopefully will grant me the ability to write a better return to it in my next chapter.
Anyway, I hope you continue to enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.
Amoc carved his way through the horde, cleaving flesh and shattering bone. The five foot long, ten pound blade in his hand was as much club as sword, and when wielded with the strength of a Garou, there was little that could resist it. The pile of gore and rotting corpses trailed behind him, tallying hundreds at this point, but this time he was not slowing down.
A lot had changed since that night six months ago in New York City. Amoc was fully present for this fight, and he observed intensely as the horde ebbed and flowed around him. He pushed where it sagged, retreating from where it pushed back. The goal was to give the horde little chance to connect with clawing and biting attacks, while simultaneously complicating its movement in order to keep it from being able to crush him. If they did manage to connect, the ballistic nylon jumpsuit that had been made and fitted for the war form stopped it from reaching his hide.
That was one of the biggest changes since the dead began rising; Amoc was no longer alone in this fight. Simon, the human he had saved on that fateful night, had made the suit. As it turned out, Simon was quite capable with a thread and needle, which he claimed came from years of being poor and unable to afford new clothes. The material had been found by Logan; a Shifter and longtime friend of Amoc, Logan had always been resourceful and lucky, two traits which had served him well in the hinterlands of Quebec. Draki, A Gargoyle and Guide, had scouted the horde by air. The stage had been set for this trial, and all that was needed was a bit of flair.
The pounding beats of Rammstein's ‘Du Hast’ had called the horde to the chosen clearing, and was now the rhythm to which Amoc slayed them.
The fight continued to this beat. Some hits from the horde were landing on him, but nothing was getting through the suit, and Amoc’s focus on managing the horde was keeping it off balance. Of course, this was only a small one, as hordes went; just a few thousand bodies. A city-sized horde would be a different kind of beast, but the trial was still proving a learning experience for Amoc. Fighting with a purpose, with a reason to keep fighting, that changed one’s way of thinking. Less recklessness, more tactics, and a lot more focus on conserving energy.
The truth was Garou were not meant for a prolonged fight. Alpha strike, hit and fade; those were a Garou’s best tactics, before the world ended. A Garou’s skin is only slightly harder to pierce than a human’s, but a Garou can heal from less serious injuries in seconds, and major injuries in only a bit longer. This does not make a Garou invincible, however. Even with Amoc’s immunity to silver, the healing ability can be overwhelmed; a Garou’s main weakness is a sustained assault. Thus the suit, the trial, and a horde that needed to be eliminated anyway.
After one last loop of ‘Du Hast’, Amoc had reached the end of the horde. With one final strike, he cleaved through the last half dozen undead, separating torsos from legs. Amoc let out a properly bestial roar as the last bodies fell to the ground. It was the signal that he had rendered the horde defeated, but it was also a moment for the beast to relish in his victory. Amoc and the beast were one and the same, but Amoc’s rational mind was its master. Not all Garou had such control. This was something Amoc had tried to stress to Simon and the other humans of Logan’s compound.
Of course, that only mattered if they encountered another Garou again. Amoc often wondered if he might be the last of his kind. He wondered how many had found their end the way he had been trying when he first met Simon. Some had to have reached this new way of thinking, Amoc hoped.
One of the legless undead clawed at Amoc’s feet. Amoc picked it up by the back of the skull, his massive, clawed hand covering most of it, sinking those claws into bone as he did so. Regarding its clouded eyes and its sloughing flesh only for a moment, Amoc closed his fist, and its arms trying in vain to claw at him fell limp. He dropped the motionless body on the ground.
The music lowered in volume, and stopped. The sound system was remotely controlled; clawed hands not being the most dextrous for manipulating small buttons, Amoc had rigged a wireless control system. Simon had that control, and would be coming down the hill soon, with the rest of the party that had assembled for this trial. Amoc turned his own internal dial down, as the beast’s work was done. He methodically crushed the skulls of any undead that were still moving while he waited.
“That...” Simon began, as he approached the end of the trail of undead bodies. “Was the most fucking metal thing I have ever witnessed in my life.”
It was a shame the lupine head of the war form was so lacking in expression, otherwise Amoc would be grinning ear to ear at Simon’s statement. Instead Amoc improvised, simply giving his audience the sign of the horns, the co-opted gesture of metal-heads everywhere.
“Fuck yes, it was.” Amoc replied in the deep, gravely voice of the war form.
Logan and Oursa looked over the massed, motionless bodies of undead. The pair had accompanied Simon mainly for the human’s own protection, in case Amoc hadn’t been able to keep control of the entire horde. Logan was shifted to his more lupine form, and Orusa was still a Yeti in the only form they could take, not being shapechangers. The two had handled a few undead that had broken loose during the trial, but for the most part the horde tended not to shed its members easily.
“I still look ridiculous.” Amoc complained.
“I mean, yeah.” Simon confirmed. “But it kept you from getting cut, right?”
The scent of his own blood was a familiar smell to Amoc, and as far as he could tell, the jumpsuit had done its job.
“Yes, it did.” Amoc confirmed.
“Then I’d call that a success.” Simon was proud of his work. “How it holds up against an even larger horde, that’s another question that we can’t really answer out here. How we get it clean… that might be just as hard a question.”
Amoc looked down, idly realizing that the jumpsuit, which was originally a dark green color, was now completely black with undead gore.
“Yeah, you’re going for a swim before you change back, buddy.” Simon concluded.
“Stinky Garou.” Oursa commented, wrinkling her nose.
“You get used to it.” Simon joked. “Not unlike the smell of a wet dog.”
“A very large, wet dog.” Logan piled on.
“Are you three done?” Amoc asked, dryly.
“A large, wet dog that sometimes drools in his sleep.” Simon continued.
“I’ll find my own way back.” Aomc stated, turning in the direction of the lake at the center of Logan’s compound.
“The drool is the worst.” Logan continued to pile on as Amoc strode away.
Amoc was still grinning ear to ear on the inside, of course. These were his friends, some for longer than others, but all people he had come to know and cherish. Not only because the living were few and far between these days, but because they could make him laugh, tell a good story, beat him at games, and otherwise just provide the company one needed in a world that had become a lot less friendly to the living.
The living, though… well. We’re about to start fighting back.
“So let me make sure I understand.” Marcus was saying. “We’ve made a werewolf, which is already essentially an unstoppable killing machine, even more unstoppable.”
Marcus’ statement wasn’t meant as an objection. The mood was actually quite light at the evening’s communal dinner. This had been a tradition at Logan’s compound for many years, but had been put on hold during the early days of the revelation of the non-human world that also existed alongside the human world. Things had normalized surprisingly fast after that, and communal dinners had resumed only a couple weeks later. Casual conversations between both sides were normal now, something that Amoc was immensely happy to have on a regular basis.
“Well, yes.” Simon responded before Amoc could. “We made the nuclear bomb able to kill us five times over instead of four. Just to be really, really sure we could end civilization.”
“You know I’m sitting right here.” Amoc interjected.
“Oh, so you are.” Simon replied, pretending as if he hadn’t been sitting next to him for the past fifteen minutes. “Well since you’re here, you should know that suit is really only going to work against the undead. And maybe a hand grenade. Tough stuff, but it’s not bullet-proof.”
“Right.” Marcus said. “So we’d only need the entire military of Canada and a willingness to accept a fifty to seventy-five percent casualty rate to stop him.”
It was all in jest. It had taken a while, but as they all got to know each other, jokes and poking fun became easier. It felt incredibly liberating to Amoc. He could operate with no filters, and none of the mental blocks he had needed for interacting with human society in the past. Discipline, as always, he couldn’t let slip; the beast is what it is, but Amoc actually found it easier to maintain that discipline among this group. He cared about these people in a way he hadn’t cared about much of anything in his life. Caring about anyone was dangerous, in that past life.
“Again.” Amoc replied in mock protest. “I’m sitting right here.”
“Oh, so you are… ooof!” Simon exclaimed, as Amoc gently poked him in the ribs, cutting off the second go-around of the joke.
That gave Marcus a good chuckle.
Damn it’s good to see these people laugh. I’m going to miss this.
Amoc banished the thought for the moment. They still had a few days before setting out again.
“I’m just glad you’re on our side.” Marcus resumed in a more somber tone. “No. More than that. I have to be honest, I saw you as a weapon at first. Something to point at the horde and fire. And maybe use that nose of yours to find game. Like any weapon, as long as I understood the rules and how it worked, you wouldn’t go off in my face. It took me a while to realize there’s a person there too, longer than I’d like to admit. I don’t know if I’d call you a friend yet. But an ally? Absolutely. You’ve earned that.”
“That’s high praise coming from you, Marcus.” Amoc half-joked.
“Don’t let it go to your head.” Marcus retorted.
Marcus was a tough nut to crack, that was certain. A constant pragmatist, and not one to wear his emotions as evidently as someone like Logan, he rarely opened up on things like this. They had come a long way if Marcus was willing to put into words his original misgivings.
Dinner continued with more small talk and jokes. Amoc went through a large slab of veal, though not as much as expected. He had been engaged with the horde for several minutes that morning, but it hadn’t drained him as he thought it should have.
I didn’t have to heal.
The realization came to Amoc. Changing form and fighting demanded a lot of energy, but regenerating damaged flesh… that took a lot more. The suit looked and felt ridiculous, but he couldn’t deny the results.
“So what’s the plan?” Marcus was asking. “For getting back into the city, that is.”
And there it was. Amoc had been trying not to think about it, but their plan to head south had been known for a while now.
“Well…” Amoc began. “The more we tried to come up with other ideas, the more we realized the strategy Simon and I started with in Utica and Rome was actually pretty good. Scout, plan, distract, objective. Don’t fight, unless there’s no other choice.”
“And the objective this time is?” Marcus inquired.
“We’re not sure.” Draki interjected when Amoc didn’t immediately respond.
The table fell silent. Draki tended not to speak much at these dinners. The Gargoyle habit of observation was a tough one to break, so Draki claimed, and he usually was quiet. Amoc didn’t believe that was the only reason, but he hadn’t pressed him on it. So when Draki spoke, everyone noticed. Partly because of his voice, which was nearly as deep and gravely’s Amoc’s in war form, but mainly because Draki couldn’t help but being an imposing figure.
The draconic Gargoyle was as far from human as anyone in this compound could be, Oursa included. He wore little beyond a loincloth wrap around his waist, and that was mainly only to serve as a place to attach pouches for the few things a Gargoyle needed to carry. His head was reptilian in shape, with yellow vertically slitted eyes on top of a long snout full of razor sharp teeth. His skin was an orange-copper hue, traced with brighter lines that formed patterns. He was lean as a whip, every muscle and tendon showing through that skin. His wings, however, were what set him the most apart.
“Just that whatever it is, it’s in Washington, D.C.” Draki continued. “And was likely begun by a non-human.”
That last part hadn’t been widely circulated among the compound yet, and drew out the silence.
“It’s a theory.” Amoc quickly tried to smooth over Draki’s blunt revelation. “One that the more I think about, the more it becomes inevitable.”
“So you think it was a Vampire?” Marcus kept the line of questions going.
That part had been made known. Washington D.C. had maintained a high concentration of Vampires practically since the city was founded, and their insight into death was unique among the non-human sentients of the world. If they could find a Vampire, they might get some insight into what the undead really are.
“I don’t know… but they might.” Amoc offered.
“And they’d just give up one of their own if it was?” Marcus asked again, now with everyone’s full attention.
“For causing the apocalypse?” Amoc’s tone shifted to cold seriousness. “Yes. Yes, they would.”
The table quietly contemplated Amoc’s statement.
“I want to go with you.” Marcus stated, breaking the silence.
That definitely came as a surprise. Marcus hadn’t made any such intention known before now, and it had obviously caught Logan off guard.
“Are you sure, Marcus?” Logan asked, breaking his silence up to this point. “Where they’re going, what they’re going to attempt, it will be extremely dangerous.”
“I know.” Marcus was resolute. “Look, Logan, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, for all of us. But I’m redundant here. You’ve got half a dozen capable hunters. I’ve got no attachments, and no reason to play it safe anymore. If there’s a chance to figure all this out and do something about it, my efforts are better spent with them.”
Marcus had been spending a lot more time with Amoc on hunts over the past month. Amoc had gotten to know Marcus a lot better in that time. Now that he thought about it, it seemed as if Marcus had been planning on this for a while, and it had come to a head tonight. First with the admission of seeing Amoc as a person, and now with the intent to follow them into whatever hell Washington D.C turned out to be.
“Very well.” Logan conceded.
“Amoc here isn’t the only one that can swear to fight for the living.” Marcus added.
“Well then.” Amoc stated. “To the soldiers who fight for the living.”
Amoc raised a glass to the toast, and the whole table returned the gesture.
“Okay, I’m done.” Amoc stated. “Any more and I’m going to face plant the coffee table.”
“But we’re about to find out the Baron’s dark secret!” Simon pleaded.
The sun had gone down hours ago, but their nightly tradition was still going. The game for the evening was an RPG from almost ten years before the apocalypse, made by an obscure Polish developer Amoc had never heard of. He found the story surprisingly compelling. The main character was not entirely human, mutated by magic and alchemy, and lived in a world filled with multiple species and monsters, some of which were intelligent. Amoc wondered if there had actually been non-humans on the development team. Some of the references were so close to the truth.
“Yeah, but you didn’t have to fight a horde this morning.” Amoc replied. “The Baron can wait.”
Simon sighed. It seemed he had been quite enjoying the game’s story as well.
“Right, well, I suppose we do have a lot of prep work to do tomorrow.” Simon conceded.
“I do want to find out what happens, though.” Amoc offered.
“Think Logan would let us take it?” Simon asked, referring to the game console.
“I can ask in the morning.” Amoc replied. “This was just gathering dust until we showed up. But right now I just need to fall down, preferably on something soft.”
With that, they shut the system down and headed up the stairs out of the basement. At the top of the stairs they emerged into an expansive field of cleanly cut grass that stretched a good distance to the east and west. Roads busy with cars and buses flanked the north and south sides of their exit at a much closer distance.
“So what do you want to do first?” Simon asked as they stepped out into the sunlight.
Simon had a camera in hand, and was gesturing to the many buildings and monuments in the near distance.
“Lincoln is down that way.” Simon began, pointing west. “Washington’s monument is that giant pillar over there. Of course the White House isn’t far, the Capitol Building is the other way, and there’s all the museums in every direction.”
“Could just walk for a bit.” Amoc offered.
“Lincoln it is.” Simon offered, setting off in the direction he had pointed towards.
It was a lovely Spring day. Not too hot, and the skies were clear. A lot of people were out enjoying the good weather. But something tugged at the back of Amoc’s mind, and it wasn’t the general unease of being out in public.
“Simon, how did we get here?” Amoc asked.
“Huh?” Simon was confused. “We just got off the Metro, how do you think we got here? Oh! Stop for a second!”
Simon walked back up to Amoc and faced east, holding the camera out at arm’s length and motioning for Amoc to do the same. He obliged, and Simon took a photo of the two of them. Amoc looked behind them and realized the Washington Monument was now very prominent in the distance.
“Nice!” Simon stated, reviewing the photo.
“Do you remember where we got on the Metro?” Amoc pressed the question. “Because I don’t.”
Simon looked puzzled, and didn’t immediately answer.
“Now that you mention it, I don’t either.” Simon finally replied. “I don’t even remember getting off the train.”
“We’re Dreamwalking.” Amoc suddenly realized. “We never left the basement.”
“Oh.. fuck.” The realization came to Simon as well. “We were awake. This is like Albany again!”
“No, this isn’t.” Amoc continued. “Albany happened because of how close The Veil was. I never had that feeling at Logan’s compound.”
“That’s not better.” Simon wasn’t happy with that assessment.
“I don’t know.” Amoc knew the answer wasn’t helpful. “But this is different. This is willful. We’re been brought here for a reason.”
“You keep saying that.” Simon began. “The Veil is willful. You’ve said that a lot over the last few months, but I’ve never really been clear on what that means. Is it alive? Is it intelligent?”
“Yes to both.” Amoc explained. “But not like us. We’re beings of flesh and blood, and it… isn’t. I really don’t know how else to explain it to someone that can’t sense it.”
“Can it be reasoned with?” Simon asked.
“No.” Amoc’s response was absolute. “Many have tried. Most came back without a result. Some never came back at all.”
“So what do we do?”
“We wait for it to show us what it wants to show us.”
“Fuck, I know what it that is.” Simon surmised, looking around. “This is Washington D.C. Ground zero. The apocalypse is about to start.”
It made sense. The Paris dream came back to Amoc, as well as Simon’s constant dreaming of all the different viewpoints of how the apocalypse began. This was it, the finale. Had they figured something out that The Veil was now latching on to? Or was this The Veil’s end goal all along?
As if on cue, the screams began.
The Metro entrance they had come from was suddenly pouring out undead, confirming Simon’s theory. The number of bodies seemed improbable. More screams were heard from the north, and from the southeast. The horde that had emerged from the Metro fell upon the living, and began killing anything that got in their way. Those killed began reanimating.
The apocalypse had started.
Amoc committed to the change, shifting to the war form. There was no point hiding in the dream, and this was a willful dream. He was determined to give them as much time as needed to find out what The Veil wanted to say. Amoc bodily picked up Simon as if he was gathering up a child, and set off at a run… away from the horde.
“What are you doing?” Simon asked from over Amoc’s shoulder.
“Buying time.” Amoc growled, focused on heading for the most fortified looking building.
More screams, some now directed at the Garou carrying a human in broad daylight, but more and more were coming from all directions. The horde was killing faster, and growing. It would be minutes before it overran the immediate area.
The building Amoc approached was large and made of heavy-looking stone. Most importantly there was only one entrance, with sturdy-looking doors. Amoc barged through the doors, to a new cacophony of screaming. People that had been looking outside at the unfolding horror scattered in all directions when they realized a new horror had made it inside. Amoc placed Simon back down while the humans around them screamed, pointed, and began running.
Amoc suddenly heard two loud pops, and felt a stinging sensation in his chest. He looked over to see a lone armed guard aiming a pistol at him, smoke rising from the barrel. Amoc closed the distance before the guard could take another shot, slamming them into the wall.
“I am not your enemy.” Amoc growled, muzzle inches from the guard’s face.
The guard dropped the gun.
“Whoa!” Simon exclaimed, rushing over. “Honest mistake, they’ve clearly never met a werewolf before! Please don’t kill them!”
It was a dream, he wouldn’t be killing anyone, not for real, but this was a distraction. Amoc let the guard go, and they scrambled away. Aside from some humans trying not to be seen on the upper levels, they now largely had the atrium to themselves. The gunshot wounds in Amoc’s chest began closing, the bullets being forced out by the process, clinking down on the tile. Amoc remarked at how real the pain felt. This was unlike any Dreamwalking experience he had been through before.
“Now what?” Simon asked.
Amoc moved to the information desk, dug a clawed hand into it, and ripped it from its moorings on the floor. Pushing aside metal detectors and screening tables, he placed it in front of the doors, creating an improvised blockade, just in time for banging to be heard on the exterior door. The banging was immediately followed by a crash as the exterior doors likely collapsed, and the massive desk jumped. Amoc put his considerable weight against it, and it held firm.
“Talk to me, buddy, what’s the plan here?” Simon pleaded.
The truth was Amoc was making this up as he went. These were the first moments of the apocalypse, being presented to them in a detail he had never experienced Dreamwalking. There was a reason this was happening, and it had to be about finding out what transpired in those first minutes.
“To learn.” Amoc focused on clear speech. “We’re here to witness this. To see what happened.”
Simon held up the camera.
“I got pictures while you were carrying me. They were flooding out of the Metro station. The other street they were coming down next to this building, I think there’s another Metro station up there. They came from underground.”
That was big. Possibly why they were here. Whatever had started this, it had begun underground. Washington D.C. was a maze of underground tunnels; Metro, government, and otherwise.
The desk jumped again, and Amoc held it in place, but it wasn’t going to hold forever.
“Is that it?” Simon asked. “Is that what we were supposed to see? Not going to lie, I’d like to wake up now.”
“Maybe.” Amoc replied. “But we’re still here.”
The desk jumped again, harder this time, and was joined by the sound of wood cracking. It wasn’t going to be long now.
“Fuck, I really don’t want to go out like this again.” Simon was likely remembering the Paris dream.
That had not been pleasant. Amoc didn’t want that either, but he wasn’t sure if there was any choice in the matter. They had no observer on the outside, no one to pull them out. This would end when The Veil willed it.
“Draki is out there somewhere.” Simon mused, likely trying to distract himself.
Another jump, more cracking. One more hit was likely all it could take.
“He blames himself.” Amoc stated.
“What, for this?” Simon was incredulous. “Who the hell could have seen this coming?”
“It’s what they do.” Amoc continued. “He thinks he failed. It’s personal.”
“So that’s why he’s so dead set on coming with us.” Simon realized.
“Well we’re all getting more answers soon.” Simon again held up the camera. “We know where to start looking.”
The desk jumped one last time and collapsed. Amoc found himself falling backwards, and landed hard, his vision momentarily blurring as his head impacted a solid floor. It was a good thing Garou skulls were hard to crack, even in human form.
In human form!
Amoc looked down to see his human self. He was back in the basement, on the floor next to the sofa. The dream must have started the moment he stood up, and ended right where it started. Leaving the dream in one form to return to another was quite jarring. Amoc had only experienced it a few times, and It explained why he was now sprawled out on the floor.
“Fuck!” Simon exclaimed. “Are you okay?”
“Just… disoriented.” Amoc tried to explain while sitting up.
“What the hell was that?” Simon was probably just as disoriented, but had the advantage of being seated on the sofa.
“That was…” Amoc began, but then noticed the object Simon was holding was not a controller. “Simon… you're still holding the camera!”
“Holy shit!” Simon exclaimed again, noticing the camera for the first time. “That’s not possible!”
Simon quickly moved to drop it on the coffee table.
“No.” Amoc stated, staring at the manifested camera. “No it definitely should not be.”
“You’re absolutely certain this came from the dream?” Draki was asking, looking over the camera.
“There’s photos on it.” Amoc explained. “Impossible photos. Photos that were never taken, because me and Simon have never been to D.C. together. That camera shouldn’t exist.”
“And yet it does.” Draki stated. “There’s nothing of The Veil around it as far as I can tell.”
“Yeah, I don’t get anything either.” Amoc added, looking at Logan.
“Nothing.” Logan stated. “It’s just a camera. A fairly new one, but there’s nothing remarkable about it.”
“Has this ever happened before?” Simon asked. “Objects coming back from Dreamwalking?”
“As far as I know, no.” Draki stated. “I’ve never heard of it happening.”
“Well that’s fucking great.” Simon was clearly unsettled. “Now I’m manifesting imaginary objects into reality. What’s next?”
“We are in uncharted territory, in more ways than one.” Draki began. “Things are changing, and it seems The Veil isn’t immune to that. There’s really no way to know for sure how much the apocalypse upset its balance. Or what comes next.”
Simon threw his arms up in a gesture of exasperation.
“To be fair, The Veil has never really been all that predictable.” Amoc offered as an attempt at settling Simon’s unease. “We’re just assuming the apocalypse changed it. It may have always been capable of this.”
“True.” Draki conceded. “We’re somewhat manifested ourselves. Gargoyles, that is. What’s to say that manifesting an inanimate object is outside The Veil’s ability?”
“And we also got a major new clue.” Amoc continued. “Those pictures show what we experienced. The undead began underground. It could be why you didn’t see it coming. It also fits in with my theory that it had to be non-human in origin. Setting all this up underground, it would have kept it out of your vision. That feels deliberate.”
“Yes.” Draki said absently; he was clearly processing a lot right now. “Possibly. We don’t go underground, which in hindsight was a weakness of our watch.”
“This doesn’t change anything though.” Simon stated. “We’re still going to D.C. for answers. Now we’ve got somewhere to start looking.”
“That we do.” Draki replied. “Though I’m not sure if that made our venture more or less dangerous.”
The night produced no dreams for Amoc. Truthfully, he slept better than he had in quite some time. Either The Veil was through with him for time being, or he was just too tired for it to reach him. The rest was welcome, though, as Amoc only had one last day in Logan’s compound before leaving, and still quite a few things to get done.
“There.” Amoc stated with authority. “No more coming loose ever again. These all had shit panel connectors. Lost track of how many we warrantied over the years.”
The house power inverter was back online, after a careful process of bypassing the connector that attached it to the solar panels on the roof. It was never going to be moved again, so there was no point in having the connector. This was the last repair Amoc had promised Logan before he left.
“When was the last time you made a service call?” Logan asked, sounding amused.
“Hey, some of us held down real jobs.” Amoc began. “Jobs we took seriously. We couldn’t all be frolicking in the woods twenty-four hours a day.”
“Fair.” Logan conceded. “But you needed us frolickers, otherwise none of your customers would have survived a billing dispute.”
“Touche.” Amoc retorted. “But to answer your question, you were the last, two years ago. That extra battery bank I installed in the basement. Which is going to come in real handy when they eventually start failing. As you may have figured, I can’t exactly order new ones anymore.”
“Yes, that had been on my mind as of late.”
“It’s going to be a few years before that really becomes a concern.” Amoc began. “But none of this stuff is going to last forever. Eventually… eventually we’re going to need to start thinking about more primitive solutions. Water mills, dynamos, gravity batteries, things that don’t really break, and when they do, they can be fixed with hand tools.”
“You’re talking as if we’re going to be medieval again.”
Amoc gave Logan a pained look, as he motioned for them both to climb back down the ladder out of the attic. The conversation resumed as Logan closed the access ladder back up.
“Not entirely, we still have our knowledge and skills.” Amoc pressed on. “We know what causes dysentery.”
That got Logan to laugh.
“Yes, I suppose it’s not a complete return to the dark ages.” Logan conceded.
“No, it’s not.” Amoc stated firmly. “In fact, Simon has been thinking about this long before either of us. He’s left you some presents. Schematics for purely mechanical systems, lessons on how to make tools by hand from scrap metal. Some other things too. He’s full of surprises.”
“So it would seem.” Logan was impressed. “We can certainly start working on them while you’re away.”
They had made it down to the ground floor, and Amoc proceeded to the kitchen, opening the fridge to retrieve a pitcher of cold water. The irony of the action wasn’t lost on him. He poured two glasses, offering one to Logan. The attic was warm and cramped, even if the days were still fairly cool.
“You know I can’t make any promises on when we’ll be back, or if.” Amoc stated the somber fact.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that last part.” Logan began. “But I know. It’s a long way to D.C. by water, and there are a lot of unknowns on that route.”
“Don’t worry about us.” Amoc tried to brush the concern off with some humor. “I am taking most of your best people. I may be more worried about you.”
“Hah, you dare!” Logan mock protested. “Oursa is quite the fighter and scout… nearly as good as you.”
“Nearly.” Amoc emphasized.
“And I’m not limited to what I can do as a human anymore.” Logan continued. “So while you may be depriving me of my one aerial scout, we have two of the best ground scouts in the area.”
“The only two ground scouts in the area.” Amoc corrected.
“As I said.” Logan concluded.
“Just… take turns.” Amoc said, in a more serious tone. “Don’t get worn out and wind up missing something.”
“I’m the one that taught you that.” Logan reminded Amoc. “Though you turned out well enough.”
Amoc gave Logan a sarcastic scoff.
“We’ll be fine.” Logan assured, more seriously. “Not to mention you wiped out the only major horde we’ve seen in the area for months. So we should have some breathing room for a while. That should give us time to work on Simon’s designs over the Summer.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Amoc concluded, downing the rest of the glass of water. “Speaking of, I should get to helping Simon now.”
“And I have meat stores to restock.” Logan stated. “Some ravenous Garou cleaned me out this Winter.”
“No idea what you’re talking about.” Amoc knowingly denied as he walked away.
Heading outside, Amoc could see that Simon was down near the entrance loading something heavy looking into the truck. The same truck they had brought from Montreal would be the one to take them back. Amoc hoped Simon’s boat had fared well through the Winter. One of the more critical and difficult parts of their planned return was going to be buying enough time to get it out of hibernation. Buying that time would be Amoc’s job. Marcus would be an extra pair of hands for getting the boat running, though he admitted to not knowing much about commercial boats, and would largely just be taking orders from Simon. Draki, of course, would be scouting out the hordes.
Jade would not be returning to Montreal with them. She had quite enough of the city. Amoc couldn’t blame her, given her experience before their first meeting. That was one of the biggest wildcards in all of this: running into non-human undead. Undead Garou were at least a known factor, but Amoc wondered about what else was out there.
As Amoc got closer to the truck, he got a better look at the object Simon was struggling with.
“Is this…?” Amoc let the question trail off as he moved to help Simon push the object into the bed.
It was surprisingly heavy, made of thick metal, and had handles bolted through, roughly in the middle of the long side, slightly offset on the short side.
“Thanks.” Simon replied. “And yes. It’s a shield built for a Garou. It’s fifty pounds of steel. No human could use it in combat, but you could. Didn’t think I was going to get it finished in time, but I managed it. Going to need testing, obviously.”
“Metal.” Amoc laughed. “Literally.”
“You know it. Got more ideas rattling around, but that’s all I had time for.”
“Where does all of this come from, anyway?” Amoc was genuinely curious.
Simon gave Amoc a look, like he was assessing the Garou standing in front of him for the first time.
“You know how long it took me to save for that iPad?” Simon answered with a question.
“I… uh…” Amoc stalled, really having no idea.
“Nah, you wouldn’t.” Simon continued. “Successful business… wolf? Heh… Wolf of Walstreet. Literally.”
Amoc rolled his eyes.
“Sorry, just… dumb shit goes through my head too.”
“I’m aware.” Amoc said, dryly.
“Wise ass.” Simon quipped. “Anyway… two years. That’s how long. I wasn’t kidding about being broke. It was easy for people to say ‘well move out of the city.’ With what money? You going to pay me to move? ‘Maybe don’t buy an iPad?’ Yeah, well fuck you, a few hundred bucks isn’t going to get me out of the city. But it will get me something nice.”
“I’m sensing some anger here.” Amoc remarked.
“Yeah, sorry, didn’t mean to vent on you.” Simon apologized. “Also getting away from my point, which was being broke all the time makes you resourceful. Well… maybe not everyone, but it did make me. You’d be surprised how much useful scrap people will just throw out. Combine that with regular visits to the DIY section of the public library… and maybe the fantasy section every once in a while…”
Simon paused to gesture at the scrap metal shield.
“And you get this.”
“There was a market for shields in New York?” Amoc asked, maintaining a serious tone.
“Funny.” Simon wasn’t biting. “Mostly I just kept my own stuff working. The great irony of being broke is you’re too busy working to have the time to do anything else. But I had a lot of ideas. The last six months gave me the time to finally explore them.”
“That’s awesome.” Amoc’s statement was earnest. “Seriously. We’re going to need more of that kind of thinking in the future.”
“Funny that being broke becomes useful when money becomes irrelevant.” Simon mused.
“A lot of things we didn’t think were useful before are going to be now.” Amoc added.
“True enough.” Simon conceded.
More supplies were loaded. There wouldn’t be any room for Amoc in the bed. Four people in the truck this time was going to be a bit cramped, and that was before they counted Draki’s wings, but Draki had assured them it wouldn’t be a problem.
Speaking of Draki…
Amoc noticed the Gargoyle approaching from the direction of the lake, carrying a small bag under an arm. He looked very out of place with the bag, and it didn’t seem that fact was lost on him.
“This is new to me.” Draki stated plainly upon reaching the truck. “Though I suppose everything since the apocalypse has been new.”
“You have everything you need?” Amoc asked.
“I believe so.” Draki began. “We never carried anything. Backpacks not being compatible with our physiques, and such. We just stored things we needed at various high points around a city, returning when we needed something. Carrying anything with me… feels strange.”
“Yeah, that feeling hasn’t stopped yet.” Simon offered. “Even if this conversation seems normal in any way now.”
“Quite.” Draki stated. “I’ve also not spent this much time as flesh and blood… well, ever. I even tried sleeping outside my stone form.”
“Oh?” That came as a surprise to Amoc. “How did that go?”
“Not especially well.” Draki admitted. “I couldn’t escape the feeling of being vulnerable, even though I know there are likely few places in this world safer than Logan’s compound. I may need to give it more time.”
“The boat is a little slice of civilization.” Simon offered. “The undead can’t get to us as long as we’re on the water. Hard to get much safer than that.”
“Very good to know.” Draki concluded, putting the pack in the bed of the truck.
“You sure you’re going to be okay in there?” Amoc asked Draki, indicating inside the truck’s cab.
“Oh yes.” Draki said with confidence. “The wings are quite flexible.”
Draki proceeded to demonstrate, bringing the ‘thumbs’ of his wings together around his neck, and curling the other fingers tight against his back.
“It’s not the most natural position, but as long as I get out to stretch every so often, it will be fine.”
“Not like we’re in any huge rush to get to Montreal.” Simon ventured.
“Where’s Marcus?” Amoc asked.
“Oh, he dropped his stuff off while you were up in the attic.” Simon answered. “I think that man has a built-in alarm clock set to sunrise.”
“Most hunters do.” Amoc added.
“Well I guess that’s done, then.” Simon concluded. “We leave tomorrow morning.”
The farewell with Logan had happened with little fanfare. Amoc didn’t want to call it a goodbye, and neither did Logan. Logan had brought them a present, though: a sizable portion of well-cured jerky.
“I will give Logan this.” Amoc was saying. “His jerky is magnifique.”
They were back on paved roads on the long haul south to Montreal. Simon was taking a turn at driving, and Amoc had shifted to the rear seat with Draki for this leg. The trip so far had been uneventful, much as it had been the first time. It was calm enough that Simon had decided to put some music on, and it wasn’t even entirely made up of Taylor Swift songs.
“Quite.” Draki added. “It was one of the small pleasures of scouting for him. I’m going to miss it.”
“There’s like fifty pounds of it back there.” Amoc offered, hooking a thumb towards the truck’s bed. “So it’ll be a while yet.”
“I’ve seen how you eat.” Draki commented.
“Hah, yeah, well… I do like jerky, no shock there I’m sure, the Garou likes meat. But I’ll always take something fresh first. And we’ll have plenty of opportunities for that. Right Marcus?”
“Oh, most definitely.” Marcus confirmed. “Really looking forward to all those wild boars you said were around in New York.”
They continued on for some time with only the sound of diesel clatter and pop music Amoc couldn’t hope to identify. Stone-filled ditches and endless evergreens played tricks with Amoc’s sense of distance. Roads this remote and featureless were rare down south. It was also easy to imagine that this road really wouldn’t have been any different to drive before the apocalypse.
“Poutine.” Simon suddenly blurted out.
“Huh?” Amoc replied, confused.
“This is Quebec, right?” Simon asked. “Famous for its poutine?”
“Yes, that is true.” Marcus, the resident Canadian, replied.
“I bet Montreal used to have some great places to get it.” Simon mused.
“It did.” Marcus confirmed.
“What brought this up?” Amoc asked.
“You said a while back you wanted to imagine where we could be in five to ten years.” Simon explained. “I’d like to imagine being able to order poutine and try it for the first time.
“And I thought I was the food-motivated one.” Amoc laughed. “I suppose that is a goal to have for the future.”
Amoc looked over to Draki. The Gargoyle was never easy to read, but Amoc had gotten better at it over the Winter. Draki was amused.
“What?” Amoc asked Draki. “We all have our aspirations. Some… more specific than others.”
“I wouldn’t mind some poutine myself.” Draki flatly stated. “Here we are, two humans, a Garou and a Gargoyle taking a road trip across Canada. Something that wouldn’t have been imaginable before. Who’s to say I won’t be in that line with Simon ordering such a meal in a few years?”
“Well.” Amoc replied, not entirely sure how to respond to the odd turn of the conversation. “I’ll put that on the list.”
“I know, it seems silly given all we have yet to do.” Draki continued more somberly, reading the anxiety Amoc had been trying to keep buried for some time. “Montreal is one step of many on a very long road ahead of us. It’s possible we may not succeed, but we’re here because we know not trying would be like telling all of those we lost that none of it mattered.”
Maybe Draki was also projecting some of his own anxiety. Amoc understood that. Draki felt he had failed in not seeing the patterns that led to the apocalypse. Amoc feared failing those around him in much the same way. Draki hadn’t been willing to talk about that yet, but Amoc had spent enough time with the Gargoyle at this point to know he blamed himself.
How the hell do I get to Draki to talk about this? He’s the Guide, not me. We’re not exactly the touchy, feely type, but I know that letting that kind of anger stew isn’t healthy. So fucking say something to him.
“I know brooding when I see it.” Amoc began. “You want to talk about it?”
Draki took a moment to consider Amoc. If there was anyone Amoc hadn’t really gotten to know very well during the Winter in Canada, it was Draki. The Gargoyle was frustratingly distant. He was quite good at reading people and cutting through their bullshit, but that road rarely traveled the other direction.
“It’s just the four of us here.” Amoc pressed, when Draki remained silent. “Anything we want to talk about stays between us.”
“Sometimes I wonder if the reason there are no Guides among Garou was simply prejudice.” Draki mused. “We thought ourselves better than humans in many ways, but this last Winter made me realize that was almost certainly not true.”
Draki again regarded Amoc, remaining silent for a moment. Simon respectfully reduced the volume of the music, but otherwise he and Marcus remained silent in the face of Draki’s uncharacteristically blunt admission.
“You’re not wrong.” Draki continued. “I have a very personal investment in coming with you for this trip. I was in Washington D.C. when all this started. There’s a reason I disappeared for a few days after we made that revelation. It nearly consumed me, trying to figure out what I had missed. The scale of that failure… it’s barely fathomable. We had discovered and helped stop so many things over the centuries, but this… I didn’t know how to account for it. There were no patterns I could find when I looked back, and it has been eating at me ever since.”
Fuck. No wonder he’s been so distant. I knew it was bothering him but I didn’t realize how badly.
“I felt the same way, or at least I thought I did.” Amoc offered. “It never made sense, the undead. At first I wanted answers, to try and figure this out. Over time, though, it got lost in my rage as the answers never came. But I wasn’t at ground zero. I wasn’t watching for things like that. I knew it had to be simmering in you, and I wanted to talk about it… but you don’t open up very much, and I’m not good at talking with people about… feelings.”
That drew a snort from Simon.
“Quiet, you.” Amoc glared at the back of Simon’s head.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help it.” Simon was honest, at least. “You were pretty… stoic… when we first met. You really have improved your people skills since then.”
“Nice save.” Amoc shot back.
“Simon’s not wrong.” Draki offered. “The fact that we’re having this conversation proves it. And because you’re right. I sat on this for too long. I fell into the trap of doing the very thing I’ve told so many over the decades to not do. I needed someone to tell me that. We may make a Guide out of you yet.”
“Thanks, that means a lot coming from you.” Amoc replied. “But you’re still deflecting.”
That drew a brief flash of emotion on Draki’s normally static features, before he regained his composure. Amoc thought maybe he had pushed a bit too far.
“We’re definitely going to make a Guide out of you.” Draki resumed after a moment. “You’re developing one of our most irritating habits: cutting through ‘bullshit’, as you say. You are right, annoyingly, again. There are too few of us left for me to remain as aloof as I have been. It may be uncomfortable for me, but it’s also unfair to you. You’ve done as much, or more, for me than I have for you. I likely would still be trapped in stone form if not for you. I can and should do better, and I will.”
The pines continued to whiz by in a respectful quiet following Draki’s first real admission of personal fault. Gargoyles were always notoriously aloof… both literally and figuratively. This all was deeply, incredibly personal for Draki, that much was obvious, and it had to be a real struggle to share it with anyone. Amoc very much knew what that felt like.
“As a semi-famous Canadian once said.” Marcus stated, breaking the silence. “I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.”
“Sounds like a wise individual.” Draki concluded.
Marcus laughed. Amoc had no idea what it was about, but it was good to see. They were an odd group, no doubt about that, but if anyone could make it to D.C., they would.