Chapter 8 - Origin: Part 3
“So you had a casual conversation with a Witch, that’s all?” Draki asked Amoc.
They were underway again, just having left Albany following the encounter with Miriam, headed south on the Hudson River to New York City. Simon was at the helm, and Amoc was with him. Draki and Marcus had joined them shortly after leaving. Amoc wasn’t surprised that Draki brought up their encounter as the first topic of discussion.
“Nothing a Witch says or does is without intent, nor does it come free.” Draki lectured. “What transpired?”
Amoc understood why Draki was grilling him on this. Draki hadn’t been present, and Witches did have a certain reputation. They also had ways of enforcing deals, so it was always best to honor any bargain once made.
“It was an information exchange, nothing more.” Amoc tried to assure Draki. “I told her why we were here, and in turn Miriam told me why she was here.”
“Just an information exchange.” Draki repeated. “How many witches have you dealt with in the past?”
“A few, actually.” Amoc replied. “This isn’t my first rodeo, I knew what I was doing.”
Draki blinked. The small tell from the normally stoic Gargoyle said he had been caught off guard by Amoc’s statement.
“A few?” Draki’s tone was carefully neutral. “Amoc… what were you, in our world?”
Simon and Marcus had both turned to look. The question was one Amoc had been happily avoiding as long as no one wanted to dig too deep. They all had some idea of what he had done, but to say it out loud was something he had hoped to never do again. It was part of his past, though, and there would be no avoiding it forever.
“I was a Hunter.” Amoc replied, equally neutral.
Draki paused again, and Simon definitely had taken note of this uncharacteristic hesitation.
“What does that mean?” Simon asked when Draki let the silence linger. “I’m going to assume we’re not talking about hunters like Marcus is a hunter, right?”
“No.” Draki resumed. “I suspected it, but I didn’t know for sure. And now I’m afraid I have pried too far, and revealed what was not mine to reveal. For that I am sorry.”
Drkai hadn’t done it intentionally. He didn’t know, and the apology came quickly. Too quickly. It unsettled Amoc to see Draki react that way, especially now. Amoc had seen that reaction before the apocalypse. Usually right after he arrived at the summons of a community that was about to give him a target. Those memories were not welcome anymore, and Amoc shoved them back down.
“It’s fine, really.” Amoc assured Draki. “It needs to be said. I promised no more secrets. I was a Hunter. That’s a word with meaning in our world, like Guide. Hunters were always Garou. Mainly because of our sensitivity to the ripples people leave in The Veil. All people, humans and non-human alike.”
“I thought you couldn’t sense humans that way?” Simon asked.
“I said you didn’t stand out.” Amoc corrected. “Not that I couldn’t. You’re just more difficult to pin down to specific individuals. It takes time and attention, stalking around where a target might be, and maybe causing some fear. Fear makes you easier to find, both as it causes larger ripples in The Veil, and because I can smell it. Literally. Adrenaline and sweat. It’s how we hunt.”
You’ve already probably scared Draki, and you’re going to scare Simon and Marcus. Dial it back you idiot.
“I told you part of this already, but not all of it.” Amoc struggled with trying to soften the statement. “There’s no nice way to say it, that I killed people because it was expected of me. Hunters were called when all other options had been exhausted, when the risk of someone revealing our world was greater than the risk of revelation from eliminating them. It didn’t happen often, and when it did, it was not the Hunter’s choice. We never hunted someone by choice. When we were called, it was decided by a consensus of the community that was at risk.”
“When you talked about Oursa’s scent last Winter… you weren’t talking about literal scent, were you?”
Simon didn’t seem all that put off by Amoc’s admissions. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but at least Simon was making the connections, and trying to understand it.
“No.” Amoc confirmed. “Though it often is mixed into how we hunt. All Garou have the ability, but Hunters specifically are recognized because of how we’ve honed it, and especially because we see the hunt as a necessity, not as sport. On top of that my silver immunity also made me…”
“Feared.” Draki finished the sentence when Amoc let it hang.
“Yes.” Amoc reluctantly acknowledged. “Fear was a tool. And for non-humans, simply learning an immune Hunter was after you could be enough to get them to submit themselves to their community for judgment. This was the only reason we would stop a hunt. Humans I hunted… had no such choice available to them.”
Simon had been looking out the front window a while now, and Marcus was avoiding eye contact. Draki was the only one watching Amoc intently as he spilled the explicit details of his past to the crew of the Argo. The only sound for some time was the humming of the main engines powering them down the river.
“I don’t know what else to say.” Amoc broke the silence. “It was the world as it was then. It was how things had been for thousands of years. We told ourselves it was necessary to protect both sides. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But it’s what we did. It’s what we were good at. Now all of what’s happened since… I’ve tried to use the skills I honed as a Hunter for the defense of the living, on both sides.”
“What we leave behind is not as important as how we’ve lived.” Simon stated, quoting something.
“That’s a nice sentiment.” Amoc mused.
“It’s from an old TV show, one of the movies actually.” Simon replied, vaguely. “I always thought it meant you shouldn’t be bound by your past, no matter what it may be. What matters is how you live your life now, not then.”
“It’s a good bit of advice.” Draki added.
“I’ve tried to follow that, I really have.” Amoc continued. “That night when I met you, Simon, and we made it to the Argo to watch the sun rise, in that moment I felt like anything was possible, for maybe the first time in my life. Every day since has felt the same and I don’t want to let that go. I’m terrified of losing that feeling. Yes, the Garou is scared of something, it is possible, and that’s one of the biggest. I hate that it took the end of the world to get me here, but this is the world now, and I’m not going to let what’s left of it go.”
“Hopes, dreams, fears.” Marcus, who had been silent up until this point, finally spoke up. “We all have them. More than ever that tells me you’re a person, and that should be respected. You do remind me at times that you are, in fact, not human, by the way you think and act, but still a person nonetheless. A person trying to shed themselves a past they’d rather forget.”
“I think we all relate to that.” Draki added.
“Definitely.” Simon concluded.
Again there was a silence as everyone let the reality of Amoc’s admissions sink in. So Amoc assumed. The engines hummed away as the shoreline of a rural upstate New York town he couldn’t identify went by.
“I completely derailed the conversation about the Witch, about Miriam.” Amoc redirected. “But I needed to get that unloaded.
“It was my fault.” Draki took the blame. “I was upset that I hadn’t been present for the conversation, and that led me to prying further than I should have. Even a Guide can make mistakes, and I accept this one.”
“Thanks, it still feels better to have that in the open.” Amoc accepted Draki’s claim, though the deference still didn’t sit well with him. “And speaking of the past… I got the feeling Miriam may have been in a very similar place to where I was when I first met Simon. She asked me what she should do at the end of our trade. Come with us, or stay and figure out Albany.”
“Amazing.” Draki commented. “I’ve never heard of a Witch deferring to another for guidance. I assume the choice made was the latter, given we are still on our own.”
“Yes.” Amoc confirmed. “Miriam was really torn, I could tell. The undead have to burn like hell, they’re the complete opposite of what they stand for. She wanted to figure out why and how they happened. But at the same time she recognized that the living need something to use against the horde before there aren’t enough of us left for it to matter. Albany could be that something, if she could fix the ‘mistake’ that was made there. And that was the other thing; she thinks Alabny’s unique situation was caused by a coven.”
“Of Witches?” Simon asked.
“The only kind of coven in our world, yes.” Draki confirmed. “It would make sense. There’s nothing else I could think of that could do something like that.”
“And the final thing.” Amoc resumed. “When I told Miriam about what I had started with Simon, she told me to be careful in D.C. It was legitimate concern in that request. I felt a little bad about leaving her in Albany while we headed south.”
“If Miriam has managed for this long, I believe she will for a while longer.” Draki did the reassuring this time. “Though that makes the statement of concern no less remarkable. I hope she is successful in Albany.”
“She would be a powerful ally.” Amoc offered.
“They’ve never allied themselves with anyone before.” Draki countered.
“Six months ago I couldn’t have imagined fighting for humans.”
“Fair play.” Draki conceded. “I suppose we will see how that turns out, assuming we make it back out of D.C.”
“Yeah, one fight at a time.” Amoc concluded.
The group decided to stop the Argo just outside New York City out of an abundance of caution, not knowing what the city might still hold, and having few options for stopping once they reached the open water of the Atlantic Ocean. One more fuel stop would be made in the city. It was risky, but it was also necessary. That would happen first thing in the morning. Draki and Marcus were out on deck getting the fuel barrels in position for a quick offload. The less time they spent refueling, the better. Amoc was assisting Simon with dinner preparations. Marcus had finally bagged a wild boar, so pork was on the menu tonight.
“What about the undead?” Simon asked.
“What about them?”
“Can you sense them at all?” Simon clarified.
“If I could, I wouldn’t have let two undead Garou ambush us.” Amoc answered. “They have no connection to The Veil. They’re just… nothing. It’s unnerving.”
“Right.” Simon probably remembered their encounters before the Winter. “I can’t imagine how weird that must be.”
Amoc handed Simon a cut of ribs for seasoning, momentarily distracted by imagining what it would taste like once cooked. The beast would happily scarf it down right now, but Amoc’s finer tastes usually won it over.
And Simon is a pretty good cook. Garou, food motivated? Yeah, that’s one stereotype we’ve definitely earned.
“Anything else, in the city that is?” Simon continued.
“Veil ripples?” Amoc assumed Simon meant. “Out here, it’s just vague impressions, almost background noise. Funny… when this was still a city of the living, it was almost overwhelming. That was another reason Garou generally didn’t like cities. It took a lot of discipline to be able to tolerate that. Now I kind of miss it. It was like I could feel the pulse of the city. It’s sad, now… like the city itself died.”
“Yeah, I definitely feel that.” Simon mused. “No self-respecting New Yorker worth their salt wouldn’t feel it.”
Amoc suddenly felt the beast stir, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He turned to look to the south, in the direction of the city.
“Oh fuck…” Simon noticed Amoc’s reaction, and knew what it meant. “Not in the middle of dinner!”
Without warning the marine radio blasted out a jumble of noise and static. Simon kept the radio on, but it was always depressingly silent. They had spent nearly a cumulative month on the water together, and Amoc had never once heard it light up like this. The world was radio silent, and there was nothing beyond background noise to be heard even at the lowest squelch setting.
Something was sending that signal.
“Holy shit!” Simon dropped the ribs on the counter and dashed over to the radio, picking up the handset and putting it up an ear. “There’s someone out there, but I can’t make out what they’re saying! You’ve got the superpowered hearing, can you make anything out?
Amoc tried, but there was just too much static. It sounded like a voice… but it was hard to be sure.
“I don’t…” Amoc’s reply was cut off.
The scream echoed towards them from the dead city to the south, the sound bouncing off of buildings a few hundred feet away on the shore. The creature that made it was not human. There were only a few things that could make such a noise.
“Generator and lights off now!” Amoc ordered.
Simon again moved swiftly, this time down the stairs to the engine room. The lights went out and the generator was stopped at the same time Marcus and Draki came running into the wheelhouse.
“What kind of horror is that?” Marcus asked.
“An eldritch horror.” Amoc responded, completely serious.
“Those are real?” Simon’s incredulous question came from the dark of the engine room stairs. “What am I saying? I’m asking a werewolf if eldritch horrors are real, of course they’re fucking real!”
The radio burst to life again; it was on the Argo’s batteries, so it had stayed on after the generator shutdown. Simon quickly moved to silence it.
“Are we safe?” Simon asked, whispering now.
“It’s not close.” Amoc replied. “But it’s out there, in the city.”
“Fuck.” Simon’s reaction was appropriate this time. “What exactly is it?”
“Something that’s been left unchecked.” Amoc answered. “The kind of thing that wouldn’t really be slowed down by the undead. It was only a matter of time.”
“It’s a broad category that goes by many names.” Draki spoke up. “There are a few things it could be. None good.”
“Something drew it out.” Amoc ventured the assumption. “And I’d wager that radio transmission was related.”
“There’s someone alive in the city.” Simon assumed.
“We can’t help them.” Amoc got ahead of Simon’s argument. “Believe me I want to, but we’d just wind up killing ourselves trying to find them. Even by daylight… it’s New York City. They could be anywhere from Downtown to the Bronx, and all of that is still crawling with undead.”
“I know, I know… it’s just… fuck!” Simon slammed a fist on the helm. “Can I at least try calling them on the radio?”
“If you were fighting an eldritch horror right now, would you want to be distracted by someone calling you on the radio?” Amoc reasoned.
“Fuck… no.” Simon conceded.
“They don’t like daylight.” Amoc continued. “We’ll make ourselves known at sunrise. We can try the radio then.”
“Fine.” Simon wasn’t happy.
“I hate this as much as you do, Simon, trust me on that.” Amoc tried to reassure Simon. “Every fiber of my being wants nothing more than to be out there tearing that thing a new asshole, but this group comes first, and I couldn’t in good conscience leave you while it’s out there.”
“First thing in the morning.” Simon confirmed.
“First thing.” Amoc repeated. “If there is someone alive out there, they’re tough as hell to have made it this long. If they’ve got radios, and were using it before it was alerted, then they’re prepared. We could only distract them at this point.”
“You’re right, as always.” Simon still wasn’t happy, but seemed to accept Amoc’s logic. “Guess we’re having jerky tonight.”
“I was really looking forward to those ribs.” Marcus added.
There were more screams, not as loud this time, but still clearly inhuman. A few minutes passed, and nothing more was heard. The beast very much wanted to be out there going after whatever it was, but Amoc knew there was no reasonable path to that goal tonight. It felt selfish as hell, and he hated it, but his friends’ safety really did come first. If there was someone out there fighting a horror of the old world, they would have to make it on their own until sunrise.
“Did you ever hunt those things?” Simon asked, breaking the quiet.
“Occasionally.” Amoc answered. “The rules on eldritch horrors and other non-sentient creatures were less strict. A Hunter was not often called to deal with them, as long whomever was doing the hunting could manage the risk to themselves, and of discovery. But if things were more risky, close to the human world, or both, we might be called in.”
“Well let’s hope they make it through the night.”
Sunrise came. They spent the night rotating watches on the Argo, though nobody got especially good sleep, Amoc included. The ripple Amoc had first felt subsided not long after the initial radio signal. Whatever had happened was finished, but they kept watch anyway. As soon as the sun was above the horizon, Simon started sending out hails on the radio. No response came until mid morning, when a very haggard sounding voice suddenly made contact.
“Whoever this is, don’t come into the city.” The voice began. “There are things here. Monsters. Worse than the undead. They killed every survivor in my group. I’m the last. Stay away.”
Amoc felt a rage burning inside him. It said he should have done something.
What would you have done? Race into New York City and fight your way through a million undead, alone? You would have just added yourself to the body count last night. There was nothing you could have done.
It took Simon a moment to gather himself for a reply after the brutal warning.
“I know.” Simon began. “Believe me I know, the undead aren’t the only things out there. There’s a lot more, but I can help you. I have a group of… highly capable people. We can get you out of the city, if you’re willing to try.”
Amoc had agreed to make an attempt at entering the city. Draki and Marcus didn’t like it, but Amoc had survived New York City’s hordes before, and he could do it again. He had help this time.
“Just who the hell are you?” The voice demanded. “Did you not hear anything I just said?”
“My name’s Simon, I’m on a boat on the Hudson.” Simon explained. “We’re very good at managing the undead. We escaped New York once already, before the last Winter. We can do it again.”
Escape from New York, a classic. Didn’t think I’d be living it. Twice. This will be the third time.
“I’m Maggie.” The voice gave their name. “And don’t promise me something you can’t deliver on, Simon. I just watched everyone I know die to something I can’t even describe, and there’s a million undead between me and the Hudson. How the hell are you going to help me get through that?”
Amoc nodded to Simon as he looked for an approval to continue. Their attempt at contact had become a rescue attempt, and this was going to be one hell of an introduction. Only Simon had really been through the revelation by fire, and now this Maggie was going to go through it too.
“We’re going to clear Canal Street.” Simon explained the plan. “There’s a tourist boat dock at the end of it we’ll be at. Can you get anywhere near there?”
“How the hell are you going to do that?” Maggie asked.
“You’ve got to trust me on this, Maggie, we can make it happen.” Simon tried to provide reassurance. “We’ve done it before to get through cities.”
“Well I’ll probably be dead tonight either way, so it’s not like I’ve got anything to lose.” Maggie conceded. “Fuck it, let’s do this. I’m just a few blocks north of Canal Street, I can get there easily, just not quickly. What else do I need to do?”
Amoc remembered the moment he made the choice to save Simon. Maggie was going through the same emotions right now. He had thought himself as already being dead, having watched everyone he knew die, and figured that he had nothing to lose by trying.
“Timing is going to be important.” Simon said. “Wait for my signal, and then run like hell towards the Hudson.”
“That’s it?” Maggie’s disbelief was audible even over the poor quality of the radio signal.
“That’s it.” Simon confirmed. “One of my friends is going to be doing the hard work of getting you a clear path. You just need to be ready to use it when it opens, because it won’t be open for long.”
“Well hell, I thought this was going to be hard.” Maggie replied, sarcastically. “Anything else before I drop off to get moving?”
“Just one.” Simon again looked at Amoc. “My friends aren’t entirely what you might expect. Just… when you get here, keep an open mind.”
“Well now I have to make it, with that tease.” Maggie continued. “I’ll be back soon.”
“Well, we wanted to test it, why not test it with the biggest horde we know of?” Simon was saying as he checked Amoc’s ballistic jumpsuit.
Amoc had shifted to war form, and had donned the bite and claw resistant armor. It was still impressive how little it seemed to restrict his movement; Simon had fit it very well.
“I don’t plan to fight.” Amoc countered.
“I know, it’s just in case.” Simon responded. “But I feel better with you wearing it this time, especially after Montreal.”
Montreal had hurt. Amoc hadn’t been that beat up since his first encounter with Simon. They wouldn’t be repeating those mistakes this time, though. The route Amoc had memorized would avoid subway entrances. There were two entrances on Canal Street that were unavoidable, but like most New York subway entrances, they were barely big enough for two people to use side by side, so not much could make it out if there was something hiding down there. It was a risk they’d have to take.
“I’ll voice my reservations once more.” Draki stated. “But I know you’re set on this, so I will be with you above.”
“Thank you.” Amoc replied.
“Radio check, everyone.” Simon ordered.
Amoc heard Simon’s voice on the earpiece clipped onto one of his ears. The radios were another one of Logan’s gifts before they left. They hadn’t had time to use them in Montreal. The radios were high powered military units, found on one of Logan’s many supply runs before Amoc and Simon had arrived in Canada. Again Amoc wondered why they had never thought to use such things before the apocalypse. The earpiece sat comfortably at the base of his right ear, and the transceiver unit was firmly attached to a loop in his suit. Transmitting wouldn’t be possible; he was hard enough to understand in war form, never mind over a radio transmission. Draki could much more easily keep him informed on what was ahead of him, and Simon could relay when Maggie was sighted.
Draki and Marcus sounded off with their radio checks. Amoc looped his sword onto his back; he opted again to leave the shield behind, as speed was going to be more important than defense. Simon was disappointed, but understood. They still hadn’t found the right situation for its use, yet.
They were as ready as they were going to be. Simon went over to the marine radio in the wheelhouse.
“Maggie, if you’re there, we’re ready.”
“I’m here.” Maggie quickly returned the contact. “And as ready as I’m going to be.”
“Okay… standby for my signal.”
As it turned out, controlling the horde in New York City wasn’t any harder than it had been in Montreal. The streets were wider, yes, but they were also clogged with cars from the beginning of the apocalypse, far more so than Montreal had been. This was no challenge for a lone Garou to navigate, but the mass of the horde was finding more difficulty. Amoc was actually having to manage his pace deliberately to not get too far ahead.
“Canal Street’s clear, I’m signaling Maggie.” Simon’s voice came over the radio.
I’ve never done a running tour of the city. I wonder what my time would be running the marathon route in war form?
“You’ve got them very well concentrated behind you, you can turn east now.” Draki fed Amoc the information over the radio.
Amoc turned east at the next block. Sparing a glance backwards, he could see that Draki wasn’t exaggerating. The horde filled the road between buildings. There were so many it seemed like a massive single organism, or a school of fish. The turn slowed their pace momentarily as some were crushed against cars and buildings as the mass of the horde attempted to change direction.
“I can see someone coming down Canal, pretty sure it’s Maggie.” Simon reported. “Maybe ninety seconds.”
“North on the next block.” Draki immediately followed.
This would run Amoc and the horde under the Brooklyn Bridge, and would put them in a bottleneck for a few blocks. The timing was tight, but so far it was working. Amoc began counting the seconds as he paced the horde and Simon’s time estimate.
“Definitely Maggie.” Simon came on the radio again. “Thirty seconds, full speed ahead.”
Amoc picked up his pace. It was time to leave the horde behind. Chinatown went by in a blur as Amoc turned west and hit full stride. At the point where Canal Street angled slightly north, Amoc had fully lost sight of the horde.
“They’re well behind, get to the Argo.” Draki confirmed.
It would shortly be time for Maggie’s introduction to the greater world. As Amoc crossed West Street, the main road that ran the edge of the Hudson, he was now close enough to hear Simon trying to ease Maggie into it.
“My other two friends are about here.” Simon was saying. “Please… just keep an open mind, like I said.”
“You’re kind of freaking me out, Simon.” Maggie’s voice was also heard. “What do you mean?”
Amoc came around the corner and within line of sight of the Argo, about a hundred feet from where Simon was standing at the end of the boat’s gangway. Maggie noticed Simon’s vision shift behind her, and turned to look.
“Holy fuck!” Maggie exclaimed.
Maggie was holding a rifle, and immediately raised it to take aim at Amoc. Amoc stopped moving.
“That thing is your friend?!” Maggie was making far too much noise. “One of those things killed two of my people!”
Amoc heard Maggie flick the safety off. This was not going well. Either Maggie was confusing him with whatever horror had occurred last night, or there were still undead Garou roaming the city.
“Wait, please!” Simon begged for calm and took a step closer to Maggie.
Maggie swung the rifle over to aim at Simon. Without any hesitation, Amoc lunged forward and covered the hundred feet towards Maggie in two bounds. With one hand he grabbed the rifle and pulled it out of Maggie’s grip, and with the other he took hold of their neck. The difficulty of doing such a thing without maiming or killing was immense; it was a good thing Simon had insisted he practice. The force of the movement was violent, but Amoc was fairly sure he hadn’t done any damage.
“Do not point a gun at my friends.” Amoc’s statement was half snarled. “I am not your enemy.”
Amoc didn’t need his senses to know that Maggie was terrified. There was something else, though. Something in the eyes. Anger?
“Whoa, Amoc.” Simon began. “Just a misunderstanding, right? Maggie, this is Amoc. Like I said, he’s my friend, and he’s also a werewolf. Amoc isn't going to hurt you, as long as you’re not going to do anything stupid like fire a gun at us and bring the entire city down here. We’re survivors, just like you, and we’d like to keep surviving. Okay?”
The anger that Amoc had seen a moment ago faded.
“Okay.” Maggie managed to say while in Amoc’s grip.
“Let go, Amoc.” Simon ordered.
Amoc released Maggie. Maggie took a moment to rub their neck. Amoc didn’t notice obvious injury, and got no scent of blood. He had managed the restraint without injury. Amoc handed Maggie’s rifle to Marcus, who promptly unloaded it and made it safe. He was starting to be able to hear the horde in the distance.
“We need to go.” Amoc stated.
That caused Maggie to flinch. Marcus immediately moved down the gangway with Draki right behind him. Apparently Draki had landed at some point in the altercation. Maggie momentarily stared at the Gargoyle, but offered no comment.
“Maggie.” Simon began again. “We’ll put this one down as a misunderstanding. We can’t stay here. We need to get back on the water now. I know what this is like, believe me I know. You thought the undead were it, the world couldn’t get any weirder, but Amoc and his kind were here long before the undead. I know that all of this is a lot to take in right now, but we can’t do Q&A here on West Street. We need to go.”
“Right.” Was the only response Maggie offered as they moved to the gangway and onto the Argo.
Simon followed behind Maggie, and Amoc pulled in the gangway after boarding. The horde was getting louder.
“Not today.” Amoc muttered towards the approaching undead.
Lines were pulled in, and they were back underway on the Hudson.
Amoc sat at the galley table, back in human form, next to Marcus and across from Maggie, their newest acquaintance. Draki was outside and out of sight for the moment, while Simon was at the helm. Maggie had been staring at Amoc since they sat down. A hint of that anger Amoc had first seen had returned. He had thought at first that it had been directed at him, but now he wasn’t as sure. What Amoc was sure of, was that Maggie had a right to that anger.
“So what the hell are you?” Maggie asked, bluntly. “I identify as a human woman, but you… and whatever the hell that guy with wings is… if you’re not what killed my people, what are you? I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit since all this started, but you’re the first that wasn’t exclusively interested in tearing my head off.”
Maggie was small in stature, maybe five foot five. Short-cut brown hair and gray eyes defined her face, which was now much cleaner following a shower on the Argo. Simon only had men’s clothing in the Argo’s closets, but Maggie said she didn’t care as long as they were clean. She was wearing a pair of jeans and t-shirt, not unlike what Amoc had first been given after he had flopped down onto the Argo’s deck in a soaking wet and completely nude pile.
“Werewolf, is the more common name.” Amoc began. “Garou is the old name. Draki is the ‘guy’ with wings, though technically Gargoyles, that’s what he is, are genderless. They’re not born in the traditional sense, and they take the pronouns of the human form they most closely resemble. Though Draki’s form is more different from humans than most.”
“And you just… change forms at will?” Maggie continued the questions. “It’s only a waxing moon tonight.”
Maggie’s initial reaction certainly was different from Simon’s and Doc Williams’. But Simon had been alone, and Amoc had found him before anything else non-human had emerged. Doc had the luxury of being isolated in Logan’s compound for the entire apocalypse. Maggie was a lot more like Jade. They both had survived in the worst of it. Amoc didn’t like that people had to die to lessen this for Maggie, but that was likely why she was less shocked by everything, and already asking questions.
“Yes.” Amoc confirmed. “You saw what we call the ‘war form’. I can also become a wolf. The moon’s influence is just a myth; it has no effect on my abilities or forms.”
“And these two are human?” Maggied asked, motioning to Simon and Marcus.
“Last I checked, yes.” Macrus confirmed.
“Do you lead this group?” Maggied asked Amoc.
Amoc saw Simon turn around and raise an eyebrow. Maggie didn’t notice the reaction, the helm being behind her seating position.
“No.” Amoc firmly replied. “We make decisions as a group. I just offer my abilities when they’re needed.”
“He’s more than just sharp claws and muscle.” Simon offered from the helm. “He’s got a way with electronics I was never able to manage.”
“How egalitarian.” Maggie commented. “I could have used you last night.”
And there it is.
“We caught part of your radio transmission last night.” Amoc replied, and paused for a moment when he saw the anger creep back into Maggie’s eyes. “Believe me when I say I wanted to be out there ripping that thing to pieces. Things like that are what we used to keep in check, but we’re not invincible. Going after those things could take days or weeks of planning, and that was before the undead. I am very, very sorry about your loss, but my priority was to this group first. I think you know a bit about what that means.”
Maggie’s definitely not a stranger to the cold calculus of survival and helping people survive.
“I would have done the same.” Maggie confirmed, after only a moment’s hesitation. “I get it, it’s not personal. It’s just how things are now. I don’t regret being alive, just what it cost.”
“Everyone on this boat has lost people.” Marcus added. “Some we may never know the fate of. Some we watched die in front of us.”
Amoc had watched many die. The way Marcus said it, it was clear he had watched it too. Amoc wondered who it might have been, but that was for Marcus to say, and he wouldn’t pry.
“All things considered, you seem to be taking this very well.” Amoc observed.
The anger went away as Maggie looked down at the table, finally ending the staring contest.
“The truth is even if you had come to our rescue last night, you could have only saved one other life.” Maggie began. “Tom was the last of my group. By the time we realized we needed to get out of the city, we were already being hunted. This hulk of an undead found us any time we went to street level. We had a couple of safe, fortified buildings, but we couldn’t stay holed up in there forever. We made one last try at getting out. Thought we had a good route that kept the time on the streets to a minimum… but it still found us. It got everyone left other than Tom. Then last night… this thing I can’t even describe… it wasn’t undead, but it wanted us dead all the same, and unlike the undead it knew exactly where we were.”
Maggie paused, looking back up at Amoc, the anger back in her eyes.
“Tom led it out to the street, where we had last seen that hulk of an undead, while yelling at the top of his lungs.” Maggie continued. “The scream it let out when it saw the undead hulk… if I hadn’t been inside, I’m not sure I’d still be able to hear. It brought the whole fucking city down on it. It killed thousands before it was overwhelmed. Then I was alone.”
“I’m sorry.” Amoc genuinely was.
“You got nothing to be sorry for.” Maggie kept going. “I thought about ending it there. There was no way I was making it out of the city on my own. But something told me, just wait out the night. So I did. And sunrise came, and there you were on the radio. And you saved my life. I could sit here and wish you had come a week earlier, wallowing in survivor's guilt while I’m at it, but that doesn’t do anyone a damn bit of good. So I won’t.”
Maggie again paused.
“Tom, Rebecca, Robert, Francis, Tony, Gerald, and Kim.” Maggie said the names, and Amoc realized they were her group of survivors. “I’ll keep going, and remember them, because that’s what they would have wanted me to do.”
The boat’s engines were the only sound for a good long while as Amoc’s group of survivors respected the sacrifice of Maggie’s. She had been through as much hell as any of them. Amoc knew what that anger was about now. In that moment that Maggie had been trapped in his grip, she was staring down Death once again. Daring it to take her, after all she had been through.
It was more than anger; it was rage.
Simon had raged, in what he thought were his last moments. Jade had raged, in what she thought were her last moments. Maggie had raged, in what she thought were her last moments.
The realization stirred the beast in Amoc. It told him something had changed. As if something had been missing not just since the start of the apocalypse, but his whole life. There weren’t any words for it yet, but it was there.
“So…” Magie finally broke the silence. “Where are we going?”
“That…” Amoc began. “Is probably going to take the rest of the day to explain.”
For the next week, Maggie spent as much time as she could absorbing information on the world she hadn’t known existed. Maggie herself had been an accountant for what she described as a ‘wholly unremarkable’ clothing label based in New York City. She also claimed to have no real skills or reason that could explain her surviving the apocalypse for so long, but Amoc doubted that statement. Determination and resourcefulness were definitely there in spades, even if they weren’t fully quantifiable skills she could put on a resume. Amoc’s proof of that was that Maggie didn't have any reservations about going to ground zero of the apocalypse. Many warnings were given, but Maggie wasn’t dissuaded. Maybe it was driven by a desire for revenge for her lost friends, but he wouldn’t turn down a motivated pair of hands at this point.
The Argo made it down the mid-Atlantic coastline, stopping often for fuel, hunting, and other miscellaneous supplies. The undead were always present, especially in the larger coastal cities like Atlantic City and Newport News. Evidence of survivors was still frustratingly difficult to find, not only because cities were littered with the debris of a frozen moment in time, but because being out in the open near a population center was a sure death sentence. Anyone that had survived this long would be well hidden, like Logan’s compound in far northern Quebec.
Amoc knew there were more people out there like Maggie’s group, but finding them would never be easy. Maggie’s group had stayed hidden on the high floors of an office building. It was quite possible that if they hadn’t transmitted that radio signal, Amoc’s group would have passed through the city never knowing they were there. Radio was a possibility they hadn’t thought of before, and finding powerful equipment capable of reaching long distances was now a high priority. Assuming they survived Washington D.C.
One last stop was made in the Chesapeake Bay, at a tourist destination known as Tangier Island. It was as frustratingly close as Amoc had come to finding survivors by just stopping and looking around. The island held evidence of recent activity. Several areas of the island still looked maintained, not overgrown as he would have expected. Someone must have been living here as recently as only a month ago, but an overnight stay turned up no evidence of current inhabitants, and no evidence of where they had gone.
Late into the tenth day of their trip south, while traversing the Potomac River, a very recognizable sight came into view on their left side.
“Quantico.” Amoc stated, looking out over the water. “We’re not far out now.”
“Marine Corps, right?” Simon asked. “Could be some useful stuff in there. Might be a good place to call it for today.”
“I think so, yes.” Amoc agreed. “I’ll check in with everyone else, but I don’t think anyone’s going to argue against avoiding D.C. at night.”
“Speaking of D.C., you feeling anything weird yet?”
“A little, yes.” Amoc confirmed. “Which is… worrying, this far out from the city.”
“Well don’t twist my arm to stop here for the night.” Simon replied sarcastically, as he started turning for Quantico in the distance.
“What should we expect in D.C.?” Maggied asked, having wandered into their conversation.
“I don’t know.” Amoc legitimately had no idea. “But tonight I’d like you to have one more Dreamwalking session with Draki. I have a feeling that it’s going to be important to be very familiar with that experience, especially if you’re adamant about coming into the city with us.”
“I am.” Maggie was resolute. “And Draki’s got some great stories from Victorian era London, so I’m happy to sit down with him again. Says I’m the first that has really wanted to hear them. Seems like he really loves telling them too.”
Amoc and Simon just looked at each other for a moment. Maggie had adjusted to her expanded world faster than anyone else Amoc had witnessed, and was even daring to challenge their barely established status quo.
“Well how often do you get to talk to someone who’s nearly two hundred years old?” Maggie reasonably asked. “He lived in a time most of us only know about from books. I could pick his brain for hours. And I have.”
Had they really been so busy with survival that they hadn’t sat down to talk to each other about their lives before the apocalypse? A lot of Amoc’s stories were ones he’d rather not share, but he hadn’t stopped to think that others might have stories they want to share, if someone had just asked. Maggie’s challenge of their status quo was proving they all still had a lot to learn from each other.
“Something to keep in mind.” Amoc mused.
“Look I get it.” Maggie continued. “Survival’s harsh. Hell, two weeks ago I watched everyone I knew die. That’s hard. It makes you just want to ball up inside and never get close to anyone ever again. I came across those people that had done just that, time and time again. Mentally they were already dead, they just hadn’t gotten there physically. But what’s the point of surviving and fighting for the living if you’re not going to live?”
“I can get behind that.” Simon agreed.
“What about you, Mr. Garou?” Maggie asked Amoc, when he didn’t initially respond.
“I think I know part of why you’ve survived this long.” Amoc concluded. “I thought I was fighting for the living, but I’m beginning to realize that’s about more than just physically staying alive.”
“It had better be.” Maggie added. “Because I don’t see much point to being alive otherwise. So talk to your friends more. Ask Draki about what really caused the Irish potato famine. I think even you’d be shocked.”
That was one Amoc hadn’t heard before.
“We’re leaning towards stopping at Quantico for the night.” Amoc stated, changing back to the subject at hand. “Figuring it might have some useful supplies, and it puts us maybe an hour out from the heart of D.C.”
“Well you’ve got my vote.” Maggie agreed. “Sure as hell don’t want to see what D.C. has to offer after sunset.”
“I’ll go check in with Draki and Marcus.” Amoc stated, as he moved to exit the wheelhouse.
Draki and Marcus were at the back of the boat, working on the small greenhouse they had constructed in the area that used to hold fishing pots. A few of the plants had started to develop sprouts. It would be months still before they would start budding, but it was promising.
“Quantico’s coming up, we’re going to stop there, if there’s no objections.”
“Thought that looked military.” Marcus observed. “Likely worth checking out while we still have daylight.”
“Draki?” Amoc asked the Gargoyle.
“Yes, I’ll be ready to scout the base once we dock.”
Amoc still wasn’t clear on what was bugging Draki, but it was definitely something, and it had been there since he had learned that Amoc had been a Hunter before the apocalypse.
“That settles it, then.” Amoc concluded. “I’ll go tell Simon to bring us all the way in.”
Amoc returned to the wheelhouse, where it was only Simon at the helm. Maggie presumably had moved down into the crew cabins.
“The crew agreed.” Amoc began. “No mutiny today, it seems, captain.”
“You know most pirate ships were democratic.” Simon retorted. “We don’t really go by Navy rules here, so we’re really more like pirates. Mutiny was just another word for election.”
“I didn’t know that.” Amoc replied. “But now I feel like we need to raise a black flag or something.”
“The Argo… terror of the Hudson and Potomac Rivers, and occasionally the mid-Atlantic.” Simon mused, then changed tracks. “You ever think about what meeting before the apocalypse would have been like? The two of us, that is?”
“Sure.” Amoc began. “I would have given you a brochure for my family’s company. Or maybe a quote for an installation if you were a customer. Or in your case maybe just some consulting on how to install a system in some construction project.”
“Hah, yeah, suppose it would have all been very normal and boring.” Simon conceded. “It’s easy to forget that a lot of what you did was so completely ordinary. And I’ve not got any problem with the… other stuff. Expectation and tradition are two powerful forces that have led to a lot of pain, for a lot of people. It’s also really hard to get away from, but you can try, and have been trying, and I’m here for that all the way.”
“Thanks, that means a lot.” Amoc appreciated Simon’s statement of trust. “Being honest, I’ve really struggled with understanding why you would trust me, of all people, knowing what I am and what I’ve done. But for some reason you do, and I’ve tried to make sure I’m earning that. I’m not convinced I have yet.”
“Wow.” Simon began. “That is some self-loathing bullshit there. You have more than earned it at this point, and I won’t have you saying otherwise. How the hell did you make it as a Garou with self-esteem like that?”
“Being able to stand people like you, I guess.” Amoc laughed.
“Yeah, that I understand.” Simon replied, amused. “Surviving years in New York construction takes a certain kind of person. That person is definitely an acquired taste.”
“Humans were always too salty for me, never understood why you didn’t give Vampires heart attacks constantly.” Amoc replied, forcing a matter-of-fact tone.
Simon looked over at Amoc and blinked.
“You’re fucking with me again.” Simon concluded.
“It never gets old.” Amoc replied. “And it’s kind of just built in, that habit. Maybe part of what made me a good Hunter.”
“Yeah, definitely glad I was never one of your targets.”
“That makes two of us.”
The base was coming into full view now. A number of boats were still moored. The amount of algae on the boat hulls said they had been here since the apocalypse.
“Looks like the base marina’s coming up, you know the routine.” Simon stated.
“Right.” Amoc said as he moved out of the wheelhouse to grab the mooring lines.
“Oh and Amoc.” Simon began, and Amoc paused. “Seriously. I meant what I said. I trust you. You may not fully believe it, but I do.”
He says it with such confidence, it makes me want to believe it too. Only thing I can do is make sure it’s never misplaced. Trust is a very easy thing to lose, and a very hard thing to earn. Kin trusted me, but Kin knew they had no choice. Simon survived on his own for a long time, and could do that again. So this is his choice. That’s worth a hell of a lot.
“Thanks Simon, I’m trying.”
“That’s all I ask.”