Chapter 7 - Origin: Part 2
They came from underground.
The irony of that fact wasn’t lost on Simon as they drove through the streets of Montreal at high speed. Draki’s scouting had spotted three major hordes, all of which were out of their way. It looked like an easy run to the boat. Simon figured that he should have known it was too good to be true.
“Right turn, two blocks, left turn.” Simon fed directions to Amoc, who was currently driving. “We’re almost there.”
They were ahead of the horde now. The narrow streets of the city center were working to their advantage, slowing the horde down. Amoc wanted to be out there pulling it away, but he had been driving when the horde ambushed them. It had come flooding out of a Metro station as they passed by, and they didn’t dare stop now. Draki was up in the air somewhere, likely kicking himself for what they all should have realized at this point: the horde goes where it wants, underground included.
“I’m changing the second we stop.” Amoc asserted as he drove.
“Don’t forget the suit, you’ll have enough time.” Simon reminded Amoc.
“How much time are you going to need?” Amoc asked. “I know we went over it, but how much can you shave off?”
“One more right turn in two blocks, that should take us straight to the ferry dock.” Simon answered with the last directions. “I was hoping to be able to get an oil change in, but that’s not happening now. If everything’s working well, maybe five minutes? I don’t want to push the engines too hard with such a short warmup.”
“We shouldn’t need to, right?” Marcus asked. “We just need to get away from the shore, since the undead won’t go in the water.”
“I can give you five minutes.” Amoc stated.
They continued speeding through narrowing streets. Montreal was an old city, with roads that had been designed long before the advent of cars. The truck had gained a couple of new dents from slightly too close encounters on their run from the horde.
The marina finally came into view, and with it the boat that had brought Simon and Amoc to Canada six months ago. It was right where they had left it, still moored to the ferry dock. The boat was the most important part of the plan, and it had been a genuine worry that it might have broken a line over the Winter and been swept out into the river. Backup options were highly risky.
I swear I’ll give you a name this time, if you get us out of here. You’ll deserve it for saving me twice.
Simon was beginning to understand why longtime sailors talked to their boats like they were people.
Simon’s brief moment of relief was cut short by Amoc hitting the brakes hard. They were in front of the walkway down to the water, and they all piled out in unison. Simon and Marcus started pulling supplies out of the bed, and Amoc went for the jumpsuit. The sound of the horde was audible. It was already too close.
“Contact in thirty seconds!”
The shout came from above. Simon looked up to see Draki passing overhead. Yelling meant the horde was coming directly for them, and there was no point in hiding. Thirty seconds wasn’t enough time.
“Fuck.” Amoc came to the same conclusion.
Amoc dropped the jumpsuit back in the bed and pulled his sword out, placing it on the ground.
“What about the shield?” Simon asked.
“Too much weight.” Amoc said as he began the change.
The change seemed to progress much faster than normal. Amoc had said he could make it happen quicker if he wanted to, but the price was that it took a lot more energy out of him. It was only for emergencies, which this clearly was. Amoc finished the transformation in mere seconds, letting out a loud grunt as he did.
Looks like it hurts a lot more too.
“Don’t try to fight them.” Simon requested as Amoc picked up his sword.
“Just going for a run.” Amoc replied, looking back at Simon.
Before Simon had a chance to add anything more, Amoc took off at full speed towards the sound of the horde. Simon looked up to see Draki turning to follow him. He would make sure Amoc didn’t run head-long into the other hordes, as planned. That was another part of the original plan, they just hadn’t expected to begin it this quickly.
You better come back, you smug bastard. I’m not doing this without you.
“Okay, everything out.” Simon got back to business. “If it’s not fragile, throw it over the rail.”
“Right.” Marcus stated, starting to pull things out of the bed.
Within thirty seconds they had the bed empty, and the sound of the horde was moving away. Packs went on backs, fragile items went in the wheelbarrow and over shoulders, and anything else went over the rail to the dock below. They reached the bottom of the ramp and began hucking everything on to the deck of the boat.
“Don’t bother with the gangway, not going to need it.” Simon ordered as he saw Marcus going for the portable walkway. “Just get everything on the deck, I’m going to go do the startup checks.”
Marcus nodded as Simon jumped the gap to the main deck, then proceeded to the wheelhouse door while fishing for the chain of keys he had put around his neck. The boat keys were too important to keep anywhere else.
Generator first. If the batteries are weak, I need that running. Would be really fucking dumb to try and crank the main engines if the solar panels haven’t been keeping up. Then cycle the fuel pumps to get any water out of the fuel, then dry crank the main engines to get all the water out of the cylinders. Three to four minutes to main engine start. Then hope like hell the oil is still good.
Simon descended the stairs to the engine room and found the main breaker box in the dark. He had done this enough times to know exactly where it was, and which breakers to switch on first. The engine room lights flickered to life as he flipped the first. That was a good sign. Simon turned on a second set, and proceeded to the generator console.
“Argo.” Simon stated to the engine room. “That will be your name. Maybe it’s a little cliche, sure, but I think it’s the right name for what we’re doing, and what we need you to be right now: a boat favored by the gods.”
Simon flicked the master power switch, then the fuel pump switch. Fuel began flowing through the sight glass in line with the filter and water separator, showing the characteristic slight green tint of diesel fuel. After a moment the pump lowered in pitch, indicating the system was primed. Simon rotated the start toggle.
And nearly had a heart attack as all the lights in the engine room dimmed. The generator was the smallest engine on the boat, and shouldn’t have done that. The batteries were definitely low. The cranking was slow and labored, but right as Simon was starting to think there wasn’t enough current to get it running, the generator lurched over in a violent fit of uneven combustion. After a few nervous moments, it settled into a smoother idle.
“Fuck yeah!” Simon exclaimed.
“Are we going?” Marcus asked from the wheelhouse.
“We are definitely going!” Simon stated confidently.
If the main engines start.
“I’ve got everything on the deck.” Marcus added. “What can I do?”
“Stay out of my way.” Simon blurted out. “Um… no offense but you’re just going to slow me down right now.”
“None taken.” Marcus replied. “I’ll keep an eye for undead.”
Simon was too busy moving on to the next steps to respond. He moved over to the main engines and began undoing screws that opened up the combustion chambers for venting. That took another sixty seconds, at the end of which Simon returned to the generator and turned a switch that brought the engine up from idle to operational speed. The generator alone wasn’t really meant to crank the engines, but it could be done in a pinch, if the batteries had enough left in them to assist. It would have to be the bare minimum number of revolutions to clear the water out. Batteries could be replaced. Engine blocks couldn’t, if a connecting rod decided to fling itself through a wall because there was water locking up a cylinder.
Turning the start toggle with fuel shut off, the engines turned, some vapor came out, and both engines seemed to be ready. Simon closed up all the vents and flipped the fuel pump toggles on. Fuel flowed through the sight glass. Simon took one cursory glance at the oil level on both engines. They had oil, and that was really all he could check in the time they had.
“Moment of truth.” Simon said for his own benefit.
Simon flicked the starter toggle back on. The lights dimmed and the generator struggled, but the big diesel cranked and coughed to life, immediately settling into an idle.
“You beautiful bastard!” Simon exclaimed.
“I hear good things down there!” Marcus shouted down the stairs.
“You’re fucking right you do!” Simon shouted back.
The second engine came to life slower, but it still fired. The batteries would have to be checked when they got a chance, this hard start had probably done some damage to them.
“We’re going to throw lines off now.” Simon ordered as he came up the steps. “We can idle out of dock if we need to, give the engines time to warm up. Pull the lines in as I throw them off.”
“Aye captain.” Marcus replied with not a hint of irony in his voice.
“You keep that up, you’ll make first mate in no time.” Simon was feeling good enough to let a joke fly.
They were going to make it out of Montreal.
“You seen Amoc or Draki?” Simon asked Marcus, looking out the front windows.
“I thought we were going to be the ones taking too much time.” Simon stated.
Simon went back outside and jumped to the dock, undoing the mooring lines one at a time for Marcus to pull back in. When the last one was clear, he jumped back over and went back up to the wheelhouse.
“Five minutes, plus or minus.” Marcus stated, looking at his watch.
“Where the hell are they?”
Simon asked the question to himself as he looked out the windows at the Montreal skyline. The engines were now masking any sounds coming from the city, so it was hard to know what was going on out there.
Suddenly there was a thump on the deck from behind them.
“Go!” Draki yelled from outside. “Out to the left, to the clock tower, use the horn!”
Draki looked winded, and Simon also noticed that he was carrying Amoc’s sword.
What the hell is going on?
“Where’s Amoc?” Simon yelled back.
“You’ll see…” Draki caught his breath. “In just a moment, but you don’t want to be near the dock.”
Simon turned back around to the wheel and cranked the rudder full to port, spinning the boat around. He began blasting the horn at the same time. Draki and Amoc had something in motion, and Simon wasn’t going to jeopardize it while his friend was out there risking himself to buy them time.
Simon ran the throttles up once the boat was pointed out of the marina and again turned the rudder hard to port past the end, directly towards the clock tower at the end of the marina. It was midway through this turn that a noise became audible over the engines, and it immediately sent chills down Simon’s back. Looking to the left, Simon saw the horde, tens of thousands of bodies, barreling full sprint towards the marina. Amoc was leading them.
Amoc turned into the entrance to the quay, and the horde attempted to follow… but its sheer mass and speed sent hundreds of bodies spilling into the water between the quay and the shore. Simon suddenly realized what Amoc was doing. There were so many moving so fast, fixated on Amoc. They wouldn’t be able to stop. Amoc was using the crush against them.
“Fucking genius!” Simon exclaimed aloud, running the throttles up further to try and time what was coming.
“What?” Marcus asked. “What am I missing?”
“It’s going to be beautiful, just wait.” Simon replied.
Amoc reached the clock tower at the end of the quay and jumped, clearing what had to have been at least fifty feet. Simon had rarely seen Amoc put his full ability to use, but here it was needed. The undead began pouring into the river behind him. Those at the front tried to stop, but the momentum of those behind them was too great. Simon throttled down to a stop and watched as more and more bodies went in.
It truly was a thing of beauty, watching the horde spill off the quay like a waterfall. This had been a theory of his and Amoc’s ever since New York City, but there was obviously no way to test it without a genuine city-sized horde. Amoc had decided this was the time to test it, apparently.
The boat rocked slightly, and Simon looked back to see one very wet Garou unceremoniously flopping down onto the deck. Simon went back to check on his friend. Amoc was fully laid out on his back, breathing hard, chest heaving. He had only seen Amoc this worn out once.
“You…” Simon began, stopping when he noticed Amoc was leaking a good amount of blood on the deck. “What happened?”
“My running partners…” Amoc began, catching his breath sharply as regeneration started closing lacerations. “Were kind of bitey.”
In this state, and after that stunt… the wiseass is cracking a joke.
The memory of their first encounter flashed through Simon’s head, seeing Amoc beaten and bloodied on the roof of that school. He was too shocked at the time to realize the joke Amoc had made.
“Fucking hell, when Draki showed up alone with your sword…”
“You were worried?” Amoc cut Simon off.
Simon paused, at a rare loss for words. He could have sworn he saw a smirk in the lupine muzzle of Amoc’s war form.
“Yes I was fucking worried!” Simon exclaimed. “That wasn’t in the plan!”
“I’m honored.” Was Amoc’s infuriatingly smug reply. “Touched, really.”
Simon stood there exasperated, looking down, a rare thing, at Amoc. His wounds were mostly closed now.
“I’m sorry.” Amoc replied, seeming to finally read Simon’s reaction. “Things went sideways. We had to improvise.”
Amoc sat up, bringing himself to eye level despite his sitting position and Simon’s standing. Simon let out one final exasperated sigh. Amoc was alive, they were all alive, and soon to be headed south. Those were the main things that counted.
“You’ve made a mess of my deck.” Simon replied after a moment, calmer.
“I’ll clean it.” Amoc offered.
“Damn right you will.”
Simon heard someone coming down the stairs to the engine room. He was finally getting oil changes in on all the engines now that they were docked in a rural part of the St. Lawrence River. Amoc and Marcus were one boat over siphoning fuel from a tugboat, which meant those footsteps had to belong to Draki.
Looking over, Simon saw the Gargoyle with his wings pulled tight. The engine room was a very small space, designed only to provide the bare minimum needed room to service the engines and other mechanical systems. Simon was pretty sure Draki had never been in a boat’s engine room before, given the way he was looking around the space.
“Is there anything I can help with?” Draki asked when he reached the bottom of the steps.
Simon looked down at the bucket that was currently collecting the oil out of engine two. His hands were nearly black at this point, and he still had engine one to do. He looked back up to Draki.
“You want to help with this?” Simon asked, holding up his oil-covered hands.
“I scouted for an hour, and found nothing.” Draki explained. “And there’s no tunnels for them to hide in out here, I made sure. I’m idle while everyone else is working.”
Draki would always be difficult to read, but Simon had picked up on a number of small tells over the last few months. This one was pretty obvious.
“Look, we don’t blame you for Montreal.” Simon began. “We all dropped the ball on that one. And we still got out alive, right? Couldn’t have done that without you. What could we have done about the Metro anyway? Stop at every entrance and ask politely if anyone’s home?”
That elicited a small chuckle from Draki.
“No, I suppose not.” Draki conceded.
“Hindsight’s a hell of a thing, trust me I’m very familiar with it.” Simon added. “But now we know, and we’ll remember it for when we get to D.C., and won’t make that mistake again. Right?”
“Good.” Simon concluded. “Now if you want to keep soul searching with me, grab a filter wrench and change the filters on number one.”
Simon pointed an oily finger at the pegboard of tools on the wall.
Blunt, but Draki needs a bit of that right now. I spent too many years wallowing in my own misery to know that doesn’t do you a damn bit of good.
Drkai moved to the tools on the wall without response or hesitation, and correctly picked out the filter wrench and one of the new filters.
“So you’ve done this before?” Simon asked.
“No, but I’ve seen it done many times.” Draki explained. “Spin it off, make sure the gasket comes with it, lubricate the new one, spin the new filter on. Hand tight only.
It was easy to forget Draki was nearly two centuries old. He’d been there for when oil filters were invented.
“Yeah, pretty simple.” Simon then laughed. “Bet you didn’t expect to be doing this a year ago. Meanwhile here I am doing exactly what I expected I’d be doing a year ago. Well, minus the undead.”
“That said, I sure as hell didn’t expect I’d be chatting about life with a Gargoyle and living with a Garou.”
There were a few moments of quiet while Draki was focusing on the task at hand. Simon changed out the bucket as it filled. Diesel engines this large held a lot of oil, and there were still uses for used oil, so there was no sense in wasting it. Greasing defenses was one of those uses. At least, that was one of the ideas Simon had come across when reading medieval history. Torches and flaming siege weapons were others, but that wasn’t likely in this oil’s future.
“You really do care for him, don’t you?” Draki asked, interrupting Simon’s mental tangent.
“Amoc, of course.” Draki added.
Simon turned to look at Draki. He was just finishing putting the new filter on, his copper-hued hands now streaked with oil.
“He’s been the best friend I’ve ever had.”
It was an unfiltered truth, and it came out of Simon’s mouth almost unbidden. It was as if there had been a need to say it to someone with absolute disregard, in order to make it real, as if somehow it hadn’t been before today. More needed to be said, Simon felt, to really cement it in reality.
“And I know, I know… he’s Garou, I’m human.” Simon continued, all filters off now. “But I had human friends before the apocalypse, and you know how many of them I would have trusted for anything that actually matters? Not a single fucking one. Some of them I had known for years. I only met Amoc six months ago, and I already feel like there’s nothing I couldn’t ask of him. That kind of trust is built, one brick at a time… it was rare before the apocalypse. And now? Well now that’s the only thing that matters. So yeah, I care about him, because I don’t want to lose that, and I don’t want to lose him.”
Draki turned to regard Simon, but made no comment.
“Fuck…” Simon had really unloaded, he realized. “Who’s doing the soul searching now?”
“I think we all are.” Draki mused.
“I feel more and more these days that I need guidance as much as any of us.” Draki continued. “Finally admitting to that, realizing how much I thought I once knew is no longer true. It’s terrifying.”
Simon couldn’t help but chuckle. Draki gave him a look, which Simon was pretty sure was incredulity.
“Now you know how I’ve felt for the past six months.” Simon was keeping the bluntness up. “Welcome to the new world. Where a human and a Gargoyle can talk to each other about their feelings, while changing the oil in the engines of a repurposed fishing boat in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.”
Simon paused for dramatic effect. Draki just watched him intently, no hint of any reaction.
“There’s very little left of what any of us used to know.” Simon continued. “So learn, and do, and figure out what this new world is about. That’s what I’m trying my best to do. You just didn’t have a Garou scare you shitless one night to jumpstart that process, so you’re a little behind the rest of us, that’s all.”
“True, all of it.” Draki conceded after a moment. “Cold water in my face, perhaps, but deserved. I appreciate it, Simon. Can I rely on you for more bluntness in the future when I need it?”
“Oh you can can fucking count on it.”
They had used the remaining daylight to get to Lake Ontario and anchor at a small uninhabited island for the night. Draki verified the island was in fact devoid of living, dead, or otherwise. Simon got started cooking the venison Amoc and Marcus had caught following the refueling operation. Marcus had said they were practically tripping over deer just off the river, and it hadn’t taken very long to bag a decent buck.
Checks of the Argo following the voyage out of Montreal had revealed that two of the boat’s batteries had indeed been permanently damaged by the hard start. They had taken some batteries from the tug they siphoned the fuel from, and Amoc had said they could likely rebuild the two damaged batteries by tearing down the tugboat’s batteries. That was an operation for another day, though. Amoc also said he was ‘running on fumes’ after the day’s activities, which didn’t come as any surprise.
“You weren’t kidding about this being civilized.” Marcus remarked. “Hot water showers? Cooked meals? It’s like we never left Logan’s compound.”
“Yeah, just don’t drink the tap water, it’s untreated river water.” Simon disclaimed. “We’ll get the rain water barrels cycled clean soon, then we’ll have plenty.”
“So what are we eating tonight?” Amoc asked, food usually being on his mind after changes and regeneration.
“Keeping it simple.” Simon began. “Venison steaks, well seasoned. And yes, rare and a triple order for you.”
“I’d tip the chef, if money still had any meaning.” Amoc mused.
The generator hummed in the background. Outside was as pitch black as anything Simon had ever seen. They were once again a small diesel-powered island in a dead world.
Surrounded by a Garou I’d trust with my life, a Gargoyle learning how to adapt, and one Canadian who really doesn’t seem all that put off by the apocalypse. Could be a lot worse.
“How long does this last?” Marcus asked, motioning around to the Argo in general.
“You mean how long can we keep this going?” Simon replied. “As long as we can find fuel, really. The generator we could run for weeks on what we have. What really drinks it is running the main engines to travel. There’s still no shortage of places where we can find fuel, though… I’ve got a lot of boats marked on my charts. It’s just the time it takes to siphon, and the risk of being near land.”
“The problem is everything else.” Simon resumed. “When things break. When oil starts to break down too far to be usable. Fuels and oils we could probably replicate with plant-based stuff… but that’s a pretty big task for engines this thirsty. Parts are the real problem. Some day a pump or relay or valve is going to break and I’m not going to have a spare. And it’ll probably be at a bad time.”
“That is how it usually goes.” Marcus conceded. “What do we do about it?”
“Sails.” Simon stated. “Someday we’re going to need to go back to the old ways. Not any time soon, but definitely something we need to have in the plans. Finding a real sailboat, something a decent size.”
“Or perhaps a steamboat.” Draki offered. “Much simpler to fuel and maintain, given they existed long before electricity or any real modern machining or refining technology. Animal fat was a very common lubricant in those days.”
“That’s not a bad idea.” Simon approved. “Both are a lot harder to find of course, given steam and sails have been tourist traps or recreational boats for a century now. But if we could find one, we’d likely be set for a very long time.”
Simon had finished chopping up the venison into steaks, and placed them on the grill. They immediately started sizzling and producing an enticing aroma.
“Oh yeah.” Amoc began. “That’s a sound I’ve been waiting to hear all day.”
“You feed a Garou once, and he never stops following you.” Simon joked.
“They do tend to be very food motivated.” Draki joined in.
“I take great offense at being generalized and stereotyped.” Amoc joked back. “Especially because it’s true.”
“I feel like I should pile on, but I’m afraid I missed a lot of the talks that would help me here.” Marcus added.
“Well, you were out helping keep all of us fed, which was kind of important.” Simon offered consolation.
“Funny how that was always just a pastime for me.” Marcus began. “My day job is basically useless now.”
“And what was that?” Amoc asked. “I don’t recall it ever coming up.”
“It didn’t, because it just wasn’t relevant.” Marcus continued. “I was a construction and industrial site safety supervisor.”
“No shit!” Simon exclaimed. “So you were the guy that always yelled at us about proper ladder use every five minutes.”
That got a chuckle out of Marcus, a rare thing.
“Among other things, yes.”
“Well hey, when we really start building things again, we’re going to need someone to keep us from doing dumb shit like screwing in a junction box on the top step of a six foot ladder.” Simon again offered consolation. “Always was amazed construction didn’t have more deaths considering all the dumb shit I saw every day.”
“You were in construction for quite a while, I remember now.” Marcus jogged his memory.
“I had been out of it for a couple years before the apocalypse.” Simon confirmed. “Had a radical change of occupation. Kind of the story of my life, really, but yeah.”
“I know Amoc worked for a power solutions company run by his family.” Marcus continued the jogging. “Which surprised me. I wouldn’t have thought you would be able to find interest in something so…”
“Mundane?” Amoc finished the dangling thought.
“Maybe not the word I would have used.” Marcus conceded.
“High functioning, as I’ve said.” Amoc used the familiar explanation. “Garou are one of the most numerous of the non-human sapients, which meant some of us had to fully integrate with human society. But I actually really enjoyed what I did. They could call me whatever they wanted, but they still called me when they needed something I could get and they couldn’t.”
“What about Gargoyles?” Marcus asked Draki.
“Oh, we certainly never interacted with humans.” Draki replied. “For obvious reasons. We were strictly observers. It was our job to see the patterns and bring disturbances to the attention of those that could do something about it, like Amoc.”
“But you two never worked together?” Marcus asked.
“Before the apocalypse, no.” Amoc answered. “It’s a small world, ours, but not that small. And incidents big enough to warrant coming to someone like me were pretty rare. Before Draki, I could probably count the number of Gargoyles I had met on one hand. Truth is I knew more humans than non-humans. Most of my time was legitimately working for the family business. Hell, I even made service calls.”
“So Logan said, but the risks I thought…” Marcus began before Amoc interrupted.
“Oh there were risks, and they scared the shit out of my kin.”
Kin was the Garou term for those that knew, before the apocalypse. As secretive as their world was, some humans did know about it, with the understanding that there was only one penalty for revelation: death. These people tended to be lovers, family, or otherwise closely tied to the Garou. No one else would be worth the risk. No one else could be trusted.
“So it started with the easy stuff.” Amoc continued. “Go out to the middle of a hundred acre field and replace a dozen failing solar panels. Didn’t take long to get into more complex stuff, though, inside buildings and homes. Interacting with people. With humans. It was a rare few of us that could do that every day. Our names were known because of what we could do, and what we could get, that almost everyone else couldn’t.”
“So one of my service techs could have been a Garou.” Marcus mused.
“Hah, not likely… but the construction workers you and Simon knew, there’s a good chance you met a Garou there at some point and never realized it.” Amoc continued. “Plenty of Garou could interact with humans for a time, but most could never tolerate it long enough to hold down a job. So most tended to come and go from temporary work, like unskilled construction jobs.”
“Jorge.” Simon stated. “Never knew the guy’s last name, was always a loner. One day I saw him fall off an open ledge, ten feet straight down onto hard concrete. Hit hard enough that I felt the floor shake. He got up like nothing had happened. He got sent home and never came back. I thought it had been because he had injuries that he hadn’t felt at the time… but now I wonder.”
“Amazing.” Marcus stated. “Amazing that all of this has been here since… who knows how long? And us humans never figured it out.”
“Humans are a noisy lot.” Draki added. “It’s not hard to hide something quiet in a noisy room. More often than not The Veil kept its secrets not because we were trying to hide it… but because humans simply didn’t notice.”
Marcus again laughed.
“Too true, far too true.”
The following week went by without any major events. Rome and Utica were much the way Simon and Amoc had left them; the same boats still moored in the same places, with the same amount of fuel in their tanks. The Mohawk River was far from being tapped out on resources, but those resources were finite, and it was something that continued to tug at the back of Simon’s mind every time they made a stop to refuel.
That, however, was the least of their worries for the time being. There was still Albany to traverse, and the complete unknown that was everything south of New York City.
The fresh water hold continued to serve well as a meat locker. Amoc and Marcus had caught more than enough game to keep them fed for a week or more. A couple of Spring storms refreshed the rain water barrels. The planters had been seeded, but Simon wasn’t sure how they would turn out, as he had never had enough time after meeting Amoc to grow anything with them.
Game nights continued, with the console Logan had given them. The power draw was relatively low, and Amoc had managed to rebuild the damaged batteries with a lot of old and dead batteries scavenged from along their route. It was almost enough to distract from the nagging feeling Simon had that all of this was going far too well.
In one less day than they had needed to make the trip to Montreal, the Argo reached the final stretch of the Mohawk before it merged into the Hudson. Everyone was gathered in the wheelhouse for the event.
“You feel that?” Amoc asked.
“Yes.” Was Draki’s only reply.
“Care to fill the humans in?” Simon asked, steering the Argo towards the final lock.
“Same thing I felt before.” Amoc explained. “The Veil is getting closer.”
“I really didn’t want to come back here, but here I am.” Simon stated.
“Right, so this is the point where we don’t leave your sight.” Marcus added.
This was the plan. Simon’s experience at the music store in Albany had fortunately occurred with Amoc right there with him. If he had been alone, there was no telling what could have happened. From this moment until they again left Albany, Simon and Marcus would always be within sight of Amoc or Draki. Mostly with Amoc, though, as Draki would be out scouting.
The plan was also not to linger longer than needed, but they also wanted to make an attempt at finding out more about what had happened in Albany. A city free of undead was an exception in this world. It could be a refuge for the living, if some way could be found to tame the effect of The Veil. It was also possible that there was no way to do this without removing the repelling effect it had on the undead, but it was too valuable a thing to not try.
“As planned, you’ll be stuck with me for most of this.” Amoc confirmed. “And you will tell me the moment you feel anything weird.”
“You can count on that.” Marcus affirmed.
“You both know what it’s like now.” Amoc added. “So this won’t be your first rodeo with The Veil.”
“Right.” Simon also affirmed.
The last few locks again went without incident, but it was late afternoon by the time they exited the final lock just north of Troy. By the time they reached Albany, the sun was well on its way to the edge of the horizon. They opted to go a little south of their previous stop, which put them in the industrial area at the south end of Albany. Draki went up to do some initial scouting before the sun completely set, and reported back that the city was still just as deserted as it had been when Simon and Amoc had been there six months ago.
They settled in for the night, but sleep was hard to come by for Simon. Amoc always said that there was no harm a dream could do, even one driven by The Veil, but the memory of his Dreamwalking event was still vivid. Finding no rest in his bed, Simon got up and went out to the deck, where he found Amoc awake and staring out at the pitch blackness of the city.
“Guess I’m not the only one.” Simon stated.
“Nope.” Amoc replied.
“What time is it even?” Simon asked.
“Early, sunrise is only a couple hours off.”
“Huh, guess I did slip away for a bit then.” Simon assumed.
“If there were, nothing I can remember.”
They both stood there in silence for a time. Amoc seemed to be distracted somehow, but Simon couldn’t pin down exactly what was driving that. Simon decided to inquire as the silence dragged on.
“You’re doing the thousand yard stare.” Simon observed. “What’s up?”
“There’s someone out there.” Amoc stated, in the blunt way he used when he was focused.
“Wait, what?” Simon blurted out, looking out in the same direction as Amoc. “Where? How long?”
“In the city somewhere.” Amoc replied. “Not close, and I don’t know how long. Sometime during the night. I didn’t feel it when we arrived.
“Should, uh… we be doing something?” Simon asked.
Amoc seemed very calm about the whole thing.
“No, the feeling hasn’t gotten stronger, so they’re not coming towards us.”
“You say feeling.” Simon observed. “Is this The Veil you’re getting it from?”
“Yes.” Amoc confirmed. “Which means it’s not human. Humans don’t stand out in The Veil like this.”
“Can you tell what they are?”
“Not from this distance, no.”
“If you can sense them… then I have to assume they might be able to sense you as well?”
“Doubtful.” Amoc replied. “We’re a lot more sensitive to this than most. Comes with… well, being what I am.”
That definitely explained the thousand yard stare, and the clipped sentences. Amoc’s ‘beast’, as he called it, was active and near the surface. Hairs stood up on the back of Simon’s neck. The primal feeling of being in the presence of a predator was there again. His friend still had the ability to mildly scare the shit out of him.
“Sorry, just trying to make sure I have a good read on where they are.” Amoc seemed to realize what he was doing and finally looked over to Simon.
“Am I that easy to read?” Simon asked, trying not to betray the feeling.
“When your adrenaline is surging like that, yeah.”
And failing at it miserably. It was too easy to forget the kind of senses Amoc had.
“Reminding me you can smell that doesn’t make it better, really.”
“Sorry.” Amoc apologized again.
“No, it’s fine.” Simon assured Amoc. “It’s just never really any less intense when you get like that, but I know it’s always you. It’s just that feeling…”
“Is something that goes back to caves and huddling in the complete blackness of a fireless night, wondering what monsters might lurk in the darkness outside, waiting to make a meal out of you?”
Amoc’s tone was completely flat, and Simon swore he caught a glint of the golden eye shine that normally was only there in war form. It brought on a brief moment of terror before Simon realized what Amoc was doing.
“Okay now you’re just fucking with me.” Simon was not amused.
“But I had you for just a moment.” Amoc, however, was.
“You’ve got an unfair advantage.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
I probably deserved that, if I’m honest. I’ve definitely landed more than my fair share of hits. Got to be able to take it as well as you give it, as they say. Amoc can just give it a lot harder than most. Doesn’t help that it’s gotten easier to land hits as I’ve gotten to know the guy. That works both ways; friends hit the hardest.
“What?” Amoc asked after Simon remained quiet for a moment.
“Expect retribution.” Simon replied.
That got a rare smile out of Amoc.
“Oh, I always do.”
Albany was scoured for resources again. Draki once more was airborne scouting, while Simon and Marcus walked with Amoc to the spots they had noted on their last visit. The city looked like nothing had changed. Stockpiles they had placed were untouched. The sole resident, Arnold, was not present in the park near where they docked the first time. Simon wondered if he and Amoc had collectively dreamed Arnold into existence. Stranger things had happened already.
Around the middle of the day as they were rummaging through an electronics store, Amoc moved to the glass doors of the store and looked outside. The hair on the back of Simon’s neck stood up as he watched Amoc come to a stop. He recognized the feeling, but its intensity this time was even higher than it had been last night. Simon cautiously walked over to where Amoc was standing.
“Is it the same as last night?” Simon asked.
“Yes.” Amoc's response was short. “They’re very close.”
“You’ve been checking, right?” Simon almost hated himself for asking the question.
“Yes, but they got closer very suddenly.”
“Think they sensed you?”
“I don’t know, but I’m not waiting to find out.”
“Wait, you’re going out there?”
Some of the feeling subsided. Amoc finally looked over to Simon.
“We’re going out there.” Amoc stated. “We’ll be fine. Get Marcus, I’m not leaving you two here alone.”
Simon wasn’t prepared to argue the point. Amoc was a Garou. They were safer with him, versus being left alone in the electronics store, especially with The Veil being what it was in Albany. Simon found Marcus in the back room, and together they proceeded with Amoc out a side door to the edge of the shopping center they were in. Amoc silently signaled for a halt, and for them to press close to the edge of the building. He then motioned for Simon to come forward and have a look.
Simon cautiously looked around the corner to the street that was about a hundred feet in front of the building. Standing in the middle of it was a woman, dressed plainly and carrying a very normal looking backpack. She was holding her hands to her chest, fingers interlocked, eyes closed. It was almost like she was in a trance. She stood like this for a count of ten seconds without moving. There was nothing otherwise notable about her, but Amoc’s senses had told him this person was something more than she seemed.
Amoc motioned for Simon and Marcus to stand behind him. Amoc then stepped out from the corner of the building.
“Hello there!” Amoc’s greeting was loud, but not shouted.
“Oh!” The woman opened her eyes and flinched, then looked over to Amoc. “You scared me. I didn’t think anyone was still alive in this city.”
“What were you doing out there?” Amoc asked the woman.
“Oh, just getting my bearings.” The woman was quick to answer, almost too quick. “It’s a big city, GPS doesn’t work anymore, it's easy to get lost.”
“Actually GPS still works just fine.” Amoc countered. “What were you really doing? There’s no point pretending, I know what you are.”
Amoc must have figured it out as they got closer. The woman took a moment to study Amoc, then began walking over. Simon looked to Amoc for direction, but he provided no indication that they should be doing anything. The woman stopped about fifteen feet from Amoc.
“Are we going to have this conversation in front of two humans?” The woman asked. “Might get messy.”
“They know what I am.” Amoc emphasized the statement. “They’re under my protection.”
Simon wasn’t sure he liked how this conversation had started. Whatever this woman is, he was starting to get the impression that she might be one of the darker things Amoc had warned him about. The woman again studied Amoc, and also turned her gaze to Simon and Marcus, before going back to Amoc.
“Well this is unexpected.” The woman genuinely seemed surprised. “A Garou standing up for two humans? The apocalypse really has come.”
“She’s a Witch.” Amoc bluntly stated, for Simon and Marcus’ benefit.
A Witch was not what Simon had been expecting. She looked so normal. Amoc had only talked about Witches once. They were very rare, and very powerful.
“There are other names, but yes, Witch does translate across most languages.” She added. “My name is Miriam. And yours?”
“Amoc.” Amoc offered, then pointed to Simon and Marcus in turn. “Simon, Marcus. So what were you doing out there?”
“Ah, yes.” Miriam began. “Amoc, you should know such information doesn’t come free.”
“Really?” Amoc was incredulous. “We’re going to hold to the old ways even now?”
Miriam again took a moment to study Amoc.
“True, these are extraordinary times.” Miriam conceded. “So I’ll give you the first one free. I came here looking for one of my sisters, then discovered the highly irregular state of The Veil in Albany. I was attempting to divine what had caused it.”
Miriam motioned to Amoc in a gesture that looked like she expected a return of information in kind. This felt almost like a ritual trade. It felt very old.
“We came here to try to find out more about what’s going on here as well.” Amoc replied. “Though this isn’t our final destination, we’re headed further south for other reasons. I’d like to know what you’ve discovered.”
Amoc returned the gesture, and the ritual trade continued.
“You’re a bit rusty at this, Amoc.” Miriam mildly admonished. “That’s not much for your balance… but in the spirit of the times I’ll continue to be generous. I think I know what went wrong here, and why The Veil is so close. I won’t say yet, not because of your balance, but because I’m not absolutely certain yet. And even if I was, I’ve no idea how I’d fix it.”
“Now I would know what it is you risked this place for, as I get the feeling this is not your first time in Albany since this occurred.”
Miriam motioned back to Amoc. He took a moment before responding.
“We recently discovered the source of the apocalypse.” Amoc bluntly laid out their reason for going south. “And that source was Washington D.C.”
“Well.” Miriam seemed genuinely surprised again. “That is quite the revelation, and if true, that significantly tips the balance to my side. For that I will answer all else I know about Albany and why I am here, but I ask one more thing to divine the truth of this statement. How did you come to this knowledge?”
“The Veil has been giving me visions.” Amoc notably only included himself in the admission. “I’ve seen the start of the apocalypse, over and over and over again. Always different places. I found a Guide to help me explore these visions. We discovered that the undead did not rise everywhere at once, but over hours, and it ringed out from a ground zero, like a wave.”
“Fascinating, truly.” Miriam mused. “I cannot fathom the power behind such a thing, or where the knowledge to do it would have come from. But certain things fall into place now, hearing this. It would explain quite a bit. I believe what you say is true, so I will now pay my balance.”
“I was drawn here to find one of my sisters, as I said.” Miram continued. “And when I found this… bubble, for lack of a better term, around Albany, I delayed my search to study it. As I’m sure you’ve noted at this point, it repels the undead. I realized this had to be created by wild energy, the kind of energy Witches wield quite effectively, but on no scale I have ever heard of before. A coven, perhaps, could have attempted such a thing. It may have been desperation, an attempt to shut out the undead as they were rampaging in the city, but they made a mistake… and it shut out everything. I have not discovered anything about the conductors of this ritual, so far.”
“Can it be corrected?” Amoc asked.
“I don’t know.” Miriam replied. “I need more time to study it. Ideally, also find out what happened to those that attempted it. It would be quite something if possible. A way to repel the undead, without the risk of turning a corner to find yourself in a dream you can never wake from.”
Simon knew that risk all too well. It really would be something to have a way to ward off the undead, though.
“I have told you all I know, and all of why I was here.” Miriam resumed again. “Yet I do not feel this adequately pays my balance for what you have told me. This tears me in two directions. I would offer to go with you, to try and solve the puzzle of the undead, and aid you as best I can… but I also feel what was attempted here in Albany may be just as important a puzzle to solve. Even if we find out how the undead came to be, there may be nothing we can do about them. A refuge for the living may be all that stands between us and annihilation.”
Miriam paused, once again regarding Amoc.
“What would you ask of me?” Miriam asked Amoc.
The question was clearly uncomfortable, as if Miriam wasn’t used to deferring to others. It was indeed quite the conundrum, though Simon wasn’t sure if having Miriam come with them would be a good thing or a bad thing. Amoc had said they were fearsome defenders of wild places and natural life, but they also held their own agendas. Simon imagined that the undead were the exact opposite of what they stood for, so that had to be pretty strong motivation either way.
Amoc looked at Simon and Marcus, but they both had nothing to offer in response to Miriam’s question. She was deeply of Amoc’s world, and Amoc was the most qualified to make that decision. Amoc looked back to Miriam.
“Solve the puzzle of Albany.” Amoc resolutely stated. “I agree that we may need it, if the risks can be mitigated. Further, if the effect could be duplicated…”
“Then we might have a weapon to use on the undead.” Miriam completed the sentence. “Very well, I will continue my study here.”
Amoc and Miriam bowed to each other in a gesture that Simon guessed meant the ritual had concluded. Amoc turned to walk away, but stopped and turned back.
“Miriam…” Amoc began. “I know what you’re feeling right now. You don’t want to believe you’re alone. I believed I was alone once too, and I found myself in a very dark place. I started something six months ago… there’s more than Simon and Marcus that know about our world. We’re not alone anymore. The old ways, the separation of our worlds… all that matters now is fighting for the living, human or otherwise.”
“And my balance tips even further.” Miriam responded, her tone now completely different, almost casual. “You are full of surprises, Amoc. I never would have thought a Garou could be capable of such things. You’ve given me a lot to think about, one of them almost unfathomable: that you are probably right. If we don’t defend all the living now, when will we? And what will be left of us if we don’t?”
Amoc nodded to Miriam in thanks, and again began to walk away.
“Amoc, one more thing.” Miriam called Amoc back. “The undead may not be the only things hostile to you in Washington D.C. The force that created them was powerful beyond anything previously known. There’s no way of knowing how The Veil will have reacted to it at its epicenter. It could make this look like a leisurely stroll in the park. I would like us to meet again, to see this new world you’ve started, so be careful.”
It was a genuinely sincere request.
“Thank you, I would like that as well.” Amoc concluded.