Chapter 9 - Origin: Part 4
“Simon, wake up!” Amoc was calling out. “We’ve got a lot to prep before sunrise.”
Simon rolled over in his bed in the pitch black room. Sleep had its claws in deep, and conscious thought was a struggle. He had a sudden feeling of panic, the kind that comes from waking up in a strange place. This feeling had come a few times while sleeping on the boat, but it had been quite a while since it last happened. Simon reached up for the reading light, and failed to find it. He then reached for the small table next to the bed… and found only more bed. The feeling of panic was growing. Reaching further Simon finally found a surface and what felt like a switch, and flipped it. A light turned on, revealing a plain-looking hotel room.
This is not the Argo. Where the hell am I?
Simon couldn’t remember going to sleep. He couldn’t remember anything after docking at Quantico.
“Amoc?” Simon called out to the empty room.
No one answered.
Am I Dreamwalking? It doesn’t feel like it. I don’t know how I got here, but I’m also pretty sure this is wrong. That feeling usually takes a minute or two to arrive, but this time I felt it immediately.
A siren was heard going by, outside the window. Simon had almost forgotten what those sounded like. He cautiously moved to get out of bed and go over to the window. Pulling a small slit open, he could see a nondescript parking lot, filled with cars, and lit by high pressure sodium lights. More lights were visible in the distance. The vista was a city at night, before the apocalypse.
I have to be Dreamwalking. This can’t be real.
Simon closed the curtain, and turned to look over the room. The lone table lamp dimly lit the room. In one corner was an open suitcase, filled with clothes. Looking in the bathroom revealed toiletries and used towels, indicating he had been here for at least a couple of days. His iPad was on the room’s desk, plugged into a charger, along with a phone. Moving to the desk, Simon tapped the screen of the iPad to wake it. The clock showed 4:15 AM, and below it the date was April 1, 2022.
The day the apocalypse started. I was in New York City, so The Veil has to be driving this. If any of this is reliable. I’m on my own, though, that’s clear. So I need to figure out what The Veil wants. That’s the number one rule of getting out of a solo Dreamwalk, so Amoc and Draki say. Let’s see how up on technology The Veil is.
Simon sat down at the desk and unlocked the iPad and phone. The phone was a model he recalled owning at the end of his time in construction. Simon opened up a navigation application on both, and they both showed the same location: a hotel somewhere in northern Virginia, just outside of Washington D.C.
That’s… not what I was expecting. Also, The Veil is really nailing the details right now, down to that stutter the app always had right before loading. What the hell is this?
Simon changed apps to his email, and suddenly all feelings of familiarity came to a close. Everything was walls of text in fixed lengths, with no spacing or punctuation. It was completely unreadable. It might have been dismissed as The Veil missing on the details of the dream, but the messages were occasionally interrupted by marketing emails, orders, and other mundane things. The blobs of text all seemed to be coming from a specific set of email addresses too. That didn’t seem random. The phone was much the same. Call history had numbers, but no names, and none of them looked familiar to Simon.
None of it answers how I got here, or what The Veil wants.
The room’s refrigerator buzzed to life, startling Simon. The details were not being missed. This was like every two star hotel Simon had ever stayed in, down to the carpet that was a year or two past due for replacement.
I’ve got to be Dreamwalking. I didn’t just wake up from a nightmare that felt like almost two years. Unless I’ve gone completely crazy.
“Just when I thought this was all starting to make sense.” Simon stated out loud, mostly for his own benefit.
So what do I do now? I’ve been in this dream before, with Amoc, in the minutes before it all happened. I know where it starts and when it starts. I guess the big question is: how does it start? Maybe that’s what these text blobs are about. I was never great with the tech stuff, that was Amoc’s thing. Could really use him right about now. Wonder if I could call him in this dream? I never asked for his phone number; no real use for it given phones stopped working a long time ago. Probably not the best idea anyway. If he’s not here, then I’m running this solo, and that Amoc would just be the dream’s version anyway.
Simon brought up the navigation app again, and plotted a route to the Simithsonian station in Washington D.C. The app was set to public transportation by default, and there was a Metro station only a few blocks away.
Figures. Broke in real life, broke in the dream. Mass transit it is. First trains leave at 5 AM, guess I can start walking. Not like I’m going to sleep in the dream or anything.
Simon took the backpack and a few items the dream had left him; basic things someone might take with them on a hiking trip. Or an urban expedition, in this case. Simon also noticed lockpicking tools. He had carried a set for a long time. There were always keys going missing on construction projects; it was more a tool of necessity than anything clandestine. It also served as a reminder to grab the hotel key before he exited the room and went downstairs.
Outside the air was crisp, being the middle of Spring, by the date. Sounds of a few cars going by reminded Simon of how noisy the world once was. Planes, cars, trains, industrial equipment, HVAC systems; all things that had largely fallen silent. The air was cleaner, too, now that he thought about it. Simon supposed that stopping ninety-nine percent of all emissions was bound to have an effect.
Simon had only managed to make it a couple of blocks toward the Metro station when an SUV suddenly came to a sharp stop next to him, and a very large man jumped out. He barely had time to process what was going on before the man was grabbing him in a bear hug, and covering his mouth. Simon attempted to struggle, but the man was immensely strong, and seemed to barely notice his efforts. A hood suddenly went over his head.
“Sleep.” Came from an unseen voice.
“Simon, I’m coming in there in a minute.” Amoc was now speaking through the door. “We really do have a lot we need to get ready.”
Simon again woke to darkness, and again conscious thought was a struggle. The hood still over his head was thick, and impossible to see through. That or it was still night outside. Simon’s hands were restrained. He felt what he assumed was the seat of the SUV beneath him. It was rocking back and forth like they were on a very unimproved road. Simon had seen enough movies to know what this meant.
Well, I’ve died plenty of times in the dream so far. It is a definite way out. Still not sure what The Veil wanted out of this one.
The SUV came to a stop.
“Good?” One of the unknown people asked.
“Good enough.” From the other. “We’re running closer on time than I’d like.”
“We find out what he knows, and then leave him for the Hunter.” Back to the first, deeper voice.
“Leave that to me.” From the second voice, their words more precise.
Hunter? Maybe I am going to find out what The Veil wanted.
Simon suddenly heard one of the doors open, and someone got out. It was several minutes later before his own door opened. Simon was unceremoniously dragged out of the SUV, walked a good distance, and his hood was then removed. They were standing in the middle of a wooded area, though the light pollution told Simon they weren’t all that far from civilization. Clearly this area had been picked as an out of the way spot to dump him after they were done.
Simon finally got a better look at his captors. The large man was well north of six feet tall, and built like a brick house. The second was much more slender and average height; with features so ambiguous Simon wasn’t entirely sure of their gender. Neither said anything, but the slender one’s eyes locked with Simon’s, and he suddenly found that he couldn’t look away. A gentle tugging came at the back of his mind. Simon instinctively resisted, and felt the touch recoil.
“This one’s had some training.” The slender one commented. “I wonder who would have done such a thing? We’re going to need some lubrication to get started, it seems.”
That sounded very decidedly kinky, coming from the slender one. And what training? Dreamwalking?
The large man started walking back to the SUV. Simon chose to remain silent. Yelling for help was unlikely to yield any results. The minutes he had waited before being pulled out of the SUV was likely the large man clearing the area around them. Run for it? Simon was clearly dealing with at least one non-human in the slender one, and that meant the large man likely was non-human as well. Running and fighting were out. These two clearly had some agenda on who they thought he was, and that seemed the most likely candidate for what The Veil wanted to show Simon. The only play now was to wait and see what happened next.
A couple of minutes went by, and the large man hadn’t returned. The slender one was clearly becoming impatient.
“Oh, he better have remembered to bring it.” The slender one stated. “It’s going to be quite a lot more difficult, and unpleasant for you if we have to do this the old fashioned way.”
Simon continued his silence. The large man still failed to return.
A howl came from the darkness. It seemed to come from no direction in particular, but it was close.
“Oh shit!” The slender one exclaimed, and bolted into the dark with inhuman speed.
That howl was not a wolf. I think the Hunter they were talking about arrived early.
Simon was now alone in the woods. There was no sound beyond the rustling of trees. He wasn’t sure what to do. The hood was off, but Simon was still restrained. Running with restraints in dark woods didn’t seem like a great idea, especially while non-human forces were out there. Go back to the SUV and try to find a way out of the restraints? The large man might still be there, but also might not, if the Hunter had found him.
Simon started moving in the direction the large man had gone, and after fifty paces or so he found the answer to what had happened to him. The large man was a bloody mess on the ground next to the SUV, his throat having been ripped out. There were other lacerations indicating he had managed to put up a brief but futile struggle. Simon tried to ignore the mess of the dead man and moved to attempt opening one of the SUV doors. The door handles were high, and his hands were tied. It seemed impossible.
Simon heard a branch crack behind him, and spun to look in the direction the sound came from.
Out of the pitch dark of the woods stepped a nightmare. Nine feet tall with yellow eyes glowing in the dark, clawed hands covered in blood, the Garou in war form was unmistakable. Its pace towards him was slow. The Garou had wanted Simon to see it coming, otherwise he would already be dead, he was sure of that. The other two had been a threat, but the human was not. The Garou didn’t need to use stealth now. As it got closer, Simon could make out that its pelt was solid brown from head to toe.
Solid brown. Amoc said solid colors were rare among Garou. And a Hunter? What are the odds?
The Garou was practically on top of him now, and its intent was not at all clear.
“Amoc!” Simon exclaimed.
The Garou instantly stopped in its tracks. They just stared at each other for a moment.
“How do you know that name?” The Garou suddenly demanded.
The question rattled Simon’s chest, it was so intense. He had never heard or felt Amoc use the war form’s voice with so much force. Simon steeled himself and went with his gut on a reply.
“I know it because the Garou it belongs to saved my life, and told me his name when we met.” Simon began. “He later told me that he picked the name because it was one letter away from a word of chaos: amok. He always felt like he was on the edge of chaos as a child, and didn’t understand it until he learned what he was. So he picked the name after his first change, in the presence of his father while on a camping trip deep in the Adirondacks.”
The story spilled out of Simon’s mouth with amazing clarity, despite the speed at which he was trying to tell it. Amoc had told him that story on one cold snowy night during their time in Logan’s compound. He said only two other people in the world knew the complete story: Amoc’s father, and Logan. It was such an intimate and personal story, Simon had been floored that Amoc was willing to tell it to him, and it had been the first thing that came to mind.
The Garou had taken a step back while Simon retold the story. Clearly it had come as a surprise.
Is this Amoc? Was I right? Is this my Amoc, or the dream’s?
The Garou suddenly moved to bring its face within inches of Simon’s. Real or not, the effect was still intimidating, and Simon reflexively closed his eyes.
“Who are you?” The Garou snarled the question.
I’ve heard that tone before. Amoc used it when Maggie pointed that gun at me in New York City. That story was maybe too personal.
“Simon.” Came the quiet response. “I’m Simon. I know this is a lot, but I know you. Maybe. I’m not sure. I thought I was Dreamwalking, but I don’t know anymore. I went to sleep on a boat in the Potomac… you were on that boat with me… and I woke up in a hotel not far from here, alone, in a different time. I don’t know why this is happening or how I got here… but I could really use your help.”
“Why would I help you?” The Garou snorted. “I should kill you.”
That hurt, a lot. Simon wasn’t sure who this Amoc was or what the hell The Veil’s game was, but this was clearly not like anything Simon had experienced before.
All in, cards on the table. No point in holding back now.
“Because in about eight to twelve hours, the world is going to end.”
The Garou moved away from Simon’s face.
“How?” The question was calm.
“I don’t know exactly how.” Simon began. “But I do know where. Below the Mall in D.C. That’s where it starts. Somewhere in the Metro tunnels, or something that has access to them. I’ve seen it, in visions. I verified it through correlation of those visions. I’ve been trying to get here for months, but this wasn’t how I thought it would happen.”
The Garou once again took a step back.
“Fuck.” Again, the response was calm. “I wasn’t expecting today.”
“You knew this was coming?” Simon was incredulous.
“Suspected, for some time.” The Garou stated, flatly. “My name is Amoc. I don’t know you, or how you seem to know me, but we clearly need to talk.”
I fucking knew it!
“But not here.” Amoc continued, looking around. “Follow me.”
Simon followed, but suddenly remembered his backpack, and the iPad full of strange emails. He turned back towards the SUV.
“Wait!” Simon exclaimed. “My bag, my notes are in it!”
At least, Simon assumed they were notes. He tried the back door, but it was locked. The front door was locked as well.”
Simon suddenly felt the looming presence of Amoc behind him. He brought a clawed hand to the window, and sharply rapped one claw on the glass. The tempered glass shattered, and Amoc stepped away.
Reaching in and being careful of the glass, Simon unlocked the door. Finding his bag between the seats, he grabbed it and quickly opened it to confirm his things were still in it, and followed after Amoc. They walked through the woods for a time, until Amoc came to a halt next to a tree. Simon noticed a backpack had been hung in that tree, at war form height. Amoc carefully plucked it from the tree and placed it on the ground.
“If you know me, you’ve seen this before.” Amoc stated.
Simon knew exactly what he meant. Amoc had explained how he managed transformations when it still was necessary to do it in secrecy. Simon simply nodded.
Amoc began the transformation to his human form. At the end of it, Simon was relieved that the naked person standing in front of him did, in fact, look like Amoc. He had been a little unreasonably worried that it still could have been someone else.
“I usually don’t have an audience for this.” Amoc commented, while opening the backpack.
Simon realized he had been staring.
“Sorry, I just… had to be sure.” Simon replied.
Amoc shrugged, and began pulling clothes out of the backpack. A thought suddenly came to Simon, one that he hadn’t had to think about in some time.
“It’s William, right?” Simon asked. “The name I should use in public.”
Amoc, in the middle of putting on some underwear, looked over and raised an eyebrow.
“I’m going to avoid public places with you right now.” Amoc began, moving on to pants. “But yes, that is my human name. I don’t know how you know all of this, but let me be very clear about something: I should have killed you back there. You being alive, knowing what you know, is extremely dangerous to me and everyone I know.”
Simon attempted to get a word in, but Amoc quickly raised a finger to silence him.
“But I didn’t.” Amoc continued. “Because there’s something different about you. Part of it is just the fact that you didn’t piss your pants and go running off screaming into the woods when I first approached you. It’s one thing knowing about our world, but something else entirely to be able to face down a Garou in war form and not mentally shut down. That tells me you’ve lived in our world, without going crazy. I’m not sure what that makes you, but I have a theory. And I know someone that can confirm it.”
“So you believe me?” Simon asked.
“I think you may know things that could save us.” Amoc reasoned. “I think that makes you worth the risk, because if you’re telling the truth, your danger to me and my own isn’t going to matter much longer.”
You may not be my Amoc, but I’ll take it.
“My car is this way.” Amoc finished putting on a shirt, put the backpack on and began walking. “Fortunately the two idiots that bagged you didn’t go far. We should make it to my friend’s place by sunrise.”
“Who were those two?” Simon asked, following behind Amoc. “I got the impression they weren’t human.”
Amoc looked back for a moment, probably gauging if he should keep talking about things Simon wasn’t supposed to know in this world.
“Big guy was a Shifter.” Amoc began. “Lion type. Strong bastards. The slender one was a Vampire. Mental type I think. Probably was going to try and probe around in your brain for what you know. I’d been following those two for a while. They were goons for something bigger that I’ve been tracking. You were a surprise, in more ways than one. They probably expected me to kill you after they were done. Would have been convenient for them, less convenient for me.”
A Vampire. The first Simon had ever encountered. It was probably a very good thing Amoc had arrived when he did.
Amoc again turned to look at Simon.
“So we’re going to disappoint them.” Amoc continued. “But no more on this until we get where we’re going, understood?”
Simon didn’t ask what was going to happen to the bodies and the SUV they left in the woods. Questions like that were things he didn’t really care to know. The car ride went by largely in silence, and it wasn’t long before they were back in civilization. Amoc turned into a neighborhood which Simon instantly recognized as old money. There were plenty of places like it in upstate New York, and he knew this area of Virginia had them as well. Amoc turned off the main road and wound the car through the labyrinth of side streets before finally turning into a long driveway. The house that came into view was old, but well kept. It was also very ‘earthy’. The grounds were heavily wooded and the house seemed to fit perfectly into the landscape. True to Amoc’s estimation, the sun was just starting to poke holes in the woods around the neighborhood, producing sun shafts of various shapes and sizes.
“We’re here.” Amoc announced, upon bringing the car to a halt. “Follow me, but keep quiet.”
Simon nodded. They both exited the car and walked the short covered path towards the front door. Simon noted that while the vines covering the path were dense and bordering on overgrown, it stopped just short of being wild. That was a theme for the plant life around the home. It all looked very natural, but not out of control.
The very moment they arrived at the front door, it opened. A woman stood behind it, dressed in a simple pair of slacks and a button down shirt. Long black hair flowed down her shoulders, but otherwise Simon thought she looked fairly ordinary. That was a dangerous assumption in Amoc’s world, though, and Simon had to assume she was anything but.
“I’ve told you before, you shouldn’t bring your toys to my home.” The woman stated; Simon had to assume she meant him.
“This is business.” Amoc countered.
“Well, dear, you know how this works.”
“I think he’s a Traveler.” Amoc stated, plainly.
The woman’s eyes briefly betrayed surprise before she caught herself. Traveler was a word with meaning in Amoc’s world, clearly.
“Well why didn’t you lead with that?” The woman’s tone became more welcoming. “Come in, dears.”
Simon caught the smell of food cooking as he walked in behind Amoc. He had the sudden realization that he was starving.
I’ve never been hungry before in the dream. What the hell is a Traveler?
“I’ll put some more food on.” The woman offered. “Make yourselves comfortable.”
Amoc motioned to the large fabric sofa. Simon took the cue and had a seat. Amoc took the large chair on the other side of the wooden coffee table. Looking around, the home was full of earth tones and natural materials, but notably no leathers of any kind. There were bonsai trees and other small plants Simon couldn’t identify, as well as various knick-knacks that appeared to be hand-crafted. Simon was beginning to suspect he knew what this woman was.
“Oh don’t sit there and brood in silence on my behalf.” The woman shouted from the kitchen. “Why don’t you tell the human what a Traveler is, for starters. The poor thing clearly has no idea what that means.”
Simon looked over to Amoc. He clearly still wasn’t comfortable with events so far, but he leaned forward in the chair.
“A Traveler is what the name suggests.” Amoc began. “Someone who has come from another place. I don’t just mean the next state or another country, I mean another world.”
“It’s extremely rare, at least the accounts we can mostly verify.” Amoc continued. “It’s basically impossible to confirm, for obvious reasons. But it explains… how you know what you know.”
“Does it speak?” Came from the kitchen.
“I… yes.” Amoc stumbled on the reply.
“Well it should be asking questions, don’t you think?”
Amoc sighed, and held out an open, upward facing hand towards Simon. He took the cue.
“So I’m not Dreamwalking?” Simon asked. “This is real?”
“Oh yes, quite real, dear.” Again from the kitchen. “There’s not a hint of dreamer about you. You are very much here.”
Amoc could have actually killed me in those woods?
“Oh, don’t worry.” The woman continued, seeming to read his shift in mood. “You will go back to your world at some point, once what you need to do here is done.”
“We’re likely going to find out what that is very soon.” Amoc added. “Today, in fact. Time is not on our side in this.”
“Well, dire portents do tend to arrive with Travelers.” The woman brushed off Amoc’s warning almost casually. “But the world won’t end before breakfast, and I can hear this one’s stomach rumbling from in here.”
Simon was genuinely starving now, especially with the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen.
The woman stepped out of the kitchen holding a plate with freshly toasted bread slices and a couple of very homemade looking jars of preserves, and placed it on the dining table. Simon needed no prompting to move to the table.
“Something to get you started, dear.” She offered. “I’m Martine, by the way. I assume you’ve met Amoc, the very broody Garou over there.”
Simon suddenly remembered he hadn’t even bothered to introduce himself.
“I’m Simon, by the way. Thank you.”
“Lovely to meet you Simon.”
If Martine was put off by any of this, it was impossible to tell. Amoc just shook his head, but got up to move over to the dining table as well. Amoc had definitely been very broody and stoic when Simon had first met him, while he was still fighting his instincts telling him this was all wrong. This Amoc wasn’t all that different from his, it seemed.
“And as you may have guessed by this point, I am a Witch.” Martine confirmed Simon’s suspicion. “And we make a mean breakfast. Which a Garou that’s been out all night and a human Traveler are sure to need.”
“Sorry for this, but… you’re not exactly what I was expecting.”
Simon wasn’t quite sure why the comment had come out of his mouth, and immediately regretted it. Martine, fortunately, seemed to take it in stride.
“A bit too housewife?” Martine laughed. “ Appearances, dear. Appearances. It’s amazing how easy it is to keep humans, no offense, from asking the important questions like ‘why don’t you ever age?’ when they’re too busy gossiping about the lonely widow living on her late husband’s fortune while occasionally having her favorite young, muscular caller over.”
The last part was said while Martine looked directly at Amoc, in a rather suggestive way. Simon couldn’t help but chortle at the interaction, and Amoc rolled his eyes before returning to his toast. Simon was starting to like Martine.
“Oh, maybe they’ll think we’re having a threesome today.” Martine mused while turning back to the kitchen. “That could keep them talking for weeks.”
Amoc said nothing further, choosing to focus on his toast. Simon suddenly remembered his iPad and the emails full of text blobs. Now might be a good time to distract him from Martine’s teasing, and to see if this version of Amoc was also up on his technology.
“There’s something you can maybe help me with right now.” Simon began, getting up and going over to where he had left his backpack on the sofa. “I think my alter ego from this world really did know something about what was going on. There are these weird emails on this iPad.”
Simon pulled out the iPad, walked back over to the table, and put it down in front of Amoc. Amoc put down the piece of toast he was working on and took a moment to tab through the emails.
“Encryption.” Amoc began. “PGP maybe, but the blocks aren’t complete. Split between emails maybe. Someone was paranoid.”
“Not paranoid enough, it seems, if those two goons found me.” Simon countered.
“True.” Amoc conceded. “Mind if I look through this?”
“I wouldn’t know where to start.” Simon admitted. “Other me was apparently a lot better with tech. Other me. Man, that’s weird to think about. Also, if I’m here… where is the Simon from this world? Am I in his body?”
“Now there’s an interesting question.” Martine was again shouting from the kitchen; her hearing had to be as good as Amoc’s. “Your mind is here, in the body of Simon from this world. What happens on the other end we do not know. We’ve never confirmed a Traveler that originated from our world.”
“Ah, well… I guess I’ll find out when I get back.”
“I do wish you could return to tell us.” Martine mused.
“Got it.” Amoc suddenly stated. “There’s a simple cipher in the subject lines that indicates the order. Needs a passphrase to unlock the private key, though. Hope you have some idea what that might be.”
Simon could only think of one password he would use for the truly secret stuff he would never want anyone else to see, and he hoped that this world’s Simon was similar enough to use it too. He took the iPad from Amoc, tapped out the password… and was amazed to see it succeed.
“Well look at that.” Amoc commented. “Let me know if you find anything interesting in there.”
“After breakfast.” Martine had suddenly appeared, and placed two plates full of food in front of them. “Dig in, boys.”
“Well that does put a bit of rush on things, doesn’t it?” Martine was saying. “I think we’re going to have to suspend the usual customs for this one. I need to make two calls immediately.”
Martine got up and moved to another room. The emails had been revealing, and confirmed what Simon already knew: his alter-ego had been chasing the apocalypse. In the last few days he began to suspect he was being followed. That Simon had been right. That Simon had also discovered the time was coming soon, but not specifically when. That, Simon assumed, was why he was here.
“So I guess we’re past figuring if I’m really who I say I am at this point.” Simon offered. “But I kind of already guessed I wouldn’t have left this house again if I failed that.”
“No.” Amoc stated plainly, and almost left it at that before continuing. “That story… I’ve not told that to anyone since Logan, over ten years ago. There are other Garou I consider very close friends I’ve never told that story to. You and your Amoc must have been extremely close.”
“Yeah…” Simon began, slowly. “Look, I don’t want to play the ‘you can’t know’ card here, but it’s the only card I’ve got. My world is hell. We’re trying to stop what happened to my world from happening to yours. And I’m not going to lie, if we do, part of me would want to stay here. Probably won’t be my choice, but even if it is, I’m not going to. That wouldn’t be fair to this world’s Simon, and it wouldn’t be fair to my Amoc. He’s genuinely one of the bright spots in a very dark world. I think he feels the same. We were both in a real dark place when we met, and most definitely saved each other’s lives.”
“I think I know why he told you now.” Amoc mused. “And you’re right, I can’t know what that’s like.”
“I really made that sound like a romantic thing, didn’t I?” Simon questioned himself. “Look, it’s not that you’re not attractive, you’ve got a fantastic body that I’ve seen buck naked more times than I can count at this point but… oh, fuck that’s even worse. Uh… it’s like a brothers in arms thing, right? We’ve been through hell together, and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other.”
Where the hell did that come from?
“I get it.” That was the first genuine bit of amusement Simon had seen from this Amoc. “Logan is like a brother to me, and I feel that way about him. Though he doesn’t look as fantastic as I do.”
Was that a joke?
Martine fortunately returned to save Simon from himself.
“They’re coming, and will meet us in D.C. proper.” Martine stated.
“You said two calls.” Amoc recalled. “Are you doing what I think you’re doing?”
“Oh yes.” Martine confirmed. “The Virginia Coven is being assembled in D.C.”
“Unannounced?” Amoc asked. “That’s going to send the Gargoyles into a frenzy.”
“They’ll have time to forgive us when we save the world.” Marine stated. “If we don’t, well… it won’t matter.”
“Drkai.” Simon stated.
Both Martine and Amoc turned to face Simon simultaneously. Martine spoke first.
“You know the Gargoyle?”
“Big humanoid dragon, copper skin, yellow eyes?” Simon assumed. “Yeah, he said he was in D.C. on the day the apocalypse started.”
“How well do you know him?” Martine asked.
“Not as well as I’d like.” Simon admitted. “He’s not the most forthcoming.”
“That does sound like Draki.” Martine began. “As you may have figured, we’ve been tracking something big for a while now. Amoc has been my primary ally in this, though there have been others. Draki among them. None of us expected it would be happening this soon, though. We’re going to need any allies we can call on. Would you know where he is, Amoc?”
“Maybe, and I have a couple of Garou I can have here in a couple of hours.”
“Good, call them, tell them to come to the Mall as quickly as they can.”
“This many of us in one place…” Amoc was interrupted by Martine.
“As I said, they can forgive us when we save the world.”
Simon absently realized that he had never actually been to Washington D.C in his world. Once in the dream, and now a second time in this other world, but never his own. The irony of the fact was somewhat amusing.
They were standing inside the Smithsonian Castle, just off the Mall. Amoc had disappeared up a staircase a few minutes ago, leaving Simon and Martine on the ground floor. They were currently doing their best to act like tourists.
“Ever been here before?” Martine casually asked.
“No.” Simon admitted. “I actually kind of wish I had more time to look around.”
“Did you know the whole Smithsonian was created because of an act of spite against the British monarchy?”
“Really?” Simon was intrigued.
“Oh yes; the man left his entire estate to the United States government, despite never having been here. Quite amusing, the real story behind it. When you get back home, ask your… older friend about it.”
Draki? He would have been alive and in London to see it, Simon supposed. He really did need to talk to Draki more.
Amoc emerged from the stairwell entrance and did his best to casually walk over to them.
“He’s not there.” Amoc stated, quietly.
“Well that’s unfortunate.” Martine was disappointed.
“Do you think…” Simon began to ask.
“No use debating hypotheticals now, we haven’t the time.” Martine interrupted. “Let’s head back outside.”
Back outside in the Spring morning, they walked out to the middle of the expansive lawn. Simon couldn’t help but give a glance to the nearby Metro exit. It was the exact same exit he had seen the undead come pouring out of in the dream. The sense of deja-vu was oppressive, especially with Amoc standing here with him. They walked a good distance out onto the lawn, away from any potential eavesdroppers.
“Fuck!” Amoc suddenly exclaimed, wincing. “Someone just turned on some death metal directly in my brain.”
“I feel it too.” Martine added. “Oh no… oh no, I think I know what they’re doing. Oh, the fools.”
“Veil ripples?” Simon tried to clarify what was happening.
“More like a Veil explosion, inside my head.” Amoc replied. “It’s drowning everything else out now, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to find anyone.”
“Then we go towards the explosion.” Marine concluded. “My sisters still aren’t here, but I don’t think we can wait any longer.”
“Time to look like we belong, then.” Simon stated, while opening his backpack.
Simon pulled out three high-visibility vests and handed one each to Martine and Amoc.
“I still don’t like this.” Amoc objected.
“You’d be surprised what you can get away with if you just look like you’re supposed to be there.” Simon countered. “Let me do the talking.”
“Have you done this before?” Amoc asked.
“I refuse to comment on account of it possibly being incriminating.”
“That’s as good of an endorsement as I need.” Martine replied, putting the vest on.
The three of them walked to the Smithsonian station entrance, and proceeded down the escalator to the upper platform. As they approached the fare gates, Simon casually waved at the station attendant, then pointed at the gate in front of them. The attendant waved back and then pushed something inside the booth, and the gate opened. Simon nodded, and the three of them proceeded through.
“That was alarmingly easy.” Amoc quietly said behind Simon’s back as they went down the second escalator to the main platform.
“Keep looking like you belong, I’ve still got to pick a lock on that door at the end of the platform.”
They walked to the end of the platform where the door to the service tunnel was located. Simon pulled his lockpick tool out of his pocket as if he was pulling out a key, and walked up to the door.
“It’s still getting stronger right?” Simon asked Amoc.
“Most definitely.” Amoc was clearly fighting the Veil’s noise.
Simon turned back to the door and plugged the pick into the lock. It turned out to be so loose, Simon reckoned he could have picked it with a q-tip. In five seconds it was unlocked, and they proceeded inside. The service tunnel was dimly lit and musty, and led off into the distance before beginning a curve a couple hundred feet in. They proceeded down the corridor, and after a few hundred paces, Martine stopped them at a door.
“Can you see this door?” Martine asked the both of them.
Simon and Amoc both nodded in an affirmative.
“Through there and down, that’s where the pounding in my head is coming from.”
“I was afraid of that.” Martine was genuinely worried now.
“What’s beyond this door?” Simon asked.
“The Veil.” Martine began. “It would take too long to fully explain, so I’ll give you the short version. There are a few places in the world where The Veil is exposed. These places have always existed, and have always been guarded, because interacting with them is dangerous and unpredictable. To everyone.”
“And we’re going in there?” Simon didn’t like the sound of any of that.
“We have little choice.” Martine confirmed.
Amoc pulled off the vest and shirt, and kicked off his shoes.
“Don’t want anything snagging if I need to change quickly.” Amoc explained.
My Amoc has never claimed that as why he undresses before changing.
“Oh Amoc, you know I need little reason to encourage you to work with no shirt on.” Martine mused.
That got a genuine laugh out of Amoc, though it was clear the joke was coming from Martine’s tension as well.
Assuming I make it through all this and get back to Albany, I can ask Miriam if she knew Martine. And ask Amoc how much of his getting naked before changing is just a load of crap.
“One more thing.” Martine added. “Simon, hold out your hand.”
Simon did as he was told. Martine grasped his hand, and Simon thought for a moment he felt a bit of warmth come through that touch, but then it was gone. She released his hand, and then turned and did the same to Amoc.
“A bit of myself.” Marine explained. “It will protect you from the effects of The Veil once we’re close to the center.”
Simon didn’t even want to ask what that meant, but having seen what The Veil can do, any protection was welcome.
“Right, well, I don’t sense any wards remaining on the door, so...”
Martine opened the door. Behind it was a simple stone hallway leading to a staircase going down. It was lit with metal fixtures on the wall that emanated light, but Simon couldn’t quite figure out where the light was coming from. There was no conduit or any sign of power sources. Which made sense, Simon figured, for a hallway leading to a breach in reality. The hallway and stairs were otherwise completely unadorned, and after a hundred or so steps, they reached the bottom.
What Simon saw in front of him at the base of those steps, he could barely describe.
The bottom of the staircase opened into a large, natural-looking chamber formed out of bedrock. That part of the space made sense to Simon, but what was going on in the center of it was pure chaos. Forms and colors came and went, sounds, smells, light and dark, space and time…
Space and time? How the fuck am I seeing space and time?
“Part of me, dear, as I said.” Martine’s voice was crystal clear, despite the chaos. “And this is not at all good.”
“You’re too late!” A voice suddenly yelled from the other side of the chamber. “It can’t be stopped now!”
They all turned to look at the source of the voice.
“Is that really the best line you could deliver right now?” Martine shouted back, slowly walking around the chaos to where the voice had come from. “It’s so cliche. Why not… oh my…”
And trailed off as they all saw the pile of bodies on the other side of the room.
“They gave their lives for this moment…”
The man was interrupted as Amoc burst forward, still in human form, and tackled the man to the ground. Martine had given a silent order, Simon realized. Amoc roughly hoisted the person back up, and walked them over to stand in front of Martine.
“Don’t even think about changing, I guarantee you I can do it faster.” Amoc threatened the unknown person.
“My role is done, torture or kill me, it won’t matter.”
“Oh I am going to kill you, dear.” Martine's tone had suddenly gone to pure menace, and it made Simon very sorry for this person. “But you’re wrong about it not mattering. You’ve unwittingly left me with exactly what I need to reverse this obscenity you’ve created.”
The person’s eyes went wide as Martine suddenly had a dagger in her hand. Simon hadn’t seen where she had drawn it from. Before they even had a chance to react, Martine plunged the dagger into the person’s chest. Upon withdrawing it, an intense burst of white light shot forward from the body into the maelstrom. Simon briefly had to look away, the burst was so brilliant. When he looked back, he noticed the darkness had gone from the chaos.
“Oh!” Martine exclaimed. “It worked!”
“What worked?” Simon was at a complete loss as to what was going on. “What is going on here? Why did you kill them?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind knowing too.” Amoc added, looking down at the dead man and back up to the chaos. “What was that burst?”
“So much, where do I start…” Martine began. “Our world is one of living energy. For every force and energy in our universe there is a counter force or energy. What is the opposite of Life? Death. These forces exist in balance, always. What they did here…” Martine pointed to the bodies. “Was an attempt at upsetting that balance. Bring Death where there was Life.”
“Why would they do such a thing?” Simon asked.
“I don’t know, it makes so little sense I have to believe they didn’t understand what they were doing.” Martine reasoned. “I would have interrogated this one…” Martine pointed to the person she had stabbed. “If we had the time. But from your accounts, Simon, we know what was about to happen. Unfortunately we still have a problem. They were right: I can’t stop it. Even with my coven, we wouldn’t be able to stop it. I managed to invert it, change all the Death they created back to Life, with that one’s sacrifice. But it’s still out of balance. That energy still has to go somewhere.”
“If it doesn’t?” Amoc asked.
“It creates a different apocalypse. What happens when Life overpowers Death? I have theories, and I like none of them.”
“So what do we do?” Simon asked.
“Of course! Simon, this is why you’re here!” Martine exclaimed.
“I hope you’re not about to stab me.” Simon retorted, somewhat worried.
“No dear, of course not.” Martine’s tone shifted back to the charming allure it had been when they first met. “You’ve already given me everything I need to fix this. I can hear your Amoc, right now, trying to wake you. I started hearing it when I gave you my protection. It’s a signpost, pointing me to your world.”
“Okay… what’s going to happen?” Simon still wasn’t sure he liked where Martine was going with this.
“Your world is already out of balance, dear.” Martine began explaining. “Death has ruled over it for some time now. I can’t fix what was done, but I can help counter it. I can send this energy back through the link to your world. Our balance will be restored, and yours will get an infusion. I can’t say for sure that it will restore it, but it can only help. Other things may change for the living as well, things I can’t predict now, but they will be to your benefit against Death.”
“Have you done this before?” Simon asked, starting to warm to the idea.
“Have I sent a ball of living energy through a tunnel in spacetime to reinvigorate a dying world?” Martine asked, amused. “No dear, I can’t say I have. But it’s going to make one hell of a line item on my list.”
“I suppose it’s the best chance for both of our worlds.” Simon conceded.
“I do sincerely believe so, dear.” Martine offered. “That is my solemn vow to you, given the time we have and the options available to us, I see no better alternatives.”
During the explanation, Simon had noticed the ball of chaos was getting brighter and more… chaotic.
“I don’t think we have much time left to debate it.” Simon observed.
“No, we don’t.” Martine concluded.
“Will this Simon survive it?” Simon asked.
“Both of you will, yes.” Martine assured. “You will go back to your world, and this Simon will wake up.”
“Go easy on him, please.” Simon pleaded. “He’s been through a lot. Oh and… Amoc? I really think I’m starting to like heavy metal. Just… you might find you like Taylor Swift too.”
“Fucking hell, the second human I tell my life story to is a Swiftie.” Amoc shook his head.
“Amoc…” Martine admonished.
“Right, sorry, I’ll keep an open mind.” Amoc conceded.
“As will I.” Martine assured. “Are you ready, Simon?”
The room was so bright now it was hard to see the walls of the cavern.
Martine held a hand out to the chaos, and its energy began swirling around her. It began coalescing and intensifying. Simon was having a hard time looking at it.
“Simon… good luck.” Martine said with the energy spiraling around her. “Now I need you to WAKE UP!”
The sound of the last two words echoed in the cavern and in Simon’s head, and at the same time the blinding energy shot towards him. Simon’s world went white, and he lost all sense of space, time, and self.
“Simon, wake up!” Amoc said to the closed door of the Argo’s captain’s quarters. “We’ve got a lot to prep before sunrise.”
Amoc waited a few moments, but even with his hearing, there were no sounds of stirring inside the cabin. This was a bad day for Simon to decide to turn into a log. D.C. wasn’t getting any safer.
“Simon, I’m coming in there in a minute!” Amoc increased his volume. “We really do have a lot we need to get ready!”
Still no sounds came from the room. Simon could be a sound sleeper at times, but Amoc should have heard a rustling of sheets, a protest, or something by now.
“Simon, this really isn’t funny.” Amoc let some irritation slip into his tone. “We need to get moving into D.C. before sunrise, and you’re the only one I trust to pilot this boat in the dark.”
Amoc reached for the door knob and tried turning it, but it was locked.
“Of course.” Amoc sighed.
In that moment, Amoc’s world became a maelstrom of noise and light. Half seen, half felt, he realized he was experiencing it both physically and mentally, as if all of his senses were being flooded with input at the same time, and it felt like he was drowning. There was only thought left untouched, and it told him that the source of this flood was the room in front of him: Simon’s room. Amoc backed up and blindly slammed himself into the door, breaking it open.
The maelstrom stopped, as quickly as it had arrived. For a few moments all of Amoc’s senses were blind, but slowly they started returning. He found himself being touched… no, hugged, by someone. They were saying something.
“Amoc!” It was Simon. “I thought I’d never see you again! What happened?”
Footsteps were thundering down the hallway now; the rest of the Argo’s crew were racing to the scene. Dazed but returning to normal, Amoc finally managed a response.
“I was about to ask you the same question!” Amoc exclaimed.
“Oh I’ve one hell of a story for you.” Simon began.