Saturday, October 13, 1:00pm
New Calais, Louisiana
Silky smirked as he drove his pimped out baby-blue Escalade past a row of fast-food restaurants, mini-marts and boarded up shops.
Green Lawn, what a laugh.
Most of the neighborhood was paved over and what little wasn’t, people’s yards and the parks, were muddy and weed-ridden.
They said that the gangs and drugs were bringing the Lawn low, but the neighborhood, hell the whole city of New Calais, had been dragged through the mud way before the gangs showed up.
Hell, dealing drugs for the Sangres Azul was probably the best job you could get on the Lawn, at least he wasn’t a chump like those assholes working at Mickey-D’s or the Dollar General.
Silky pulled up to the duplex still patting himself on the back for his business acumen when he saw the “For Sale” sign.
It wasn’t the sign itself that almost caused the dealer to drop the blunt that currently hung on his lip, it was the bright orange spray paint that covered half of the sign that didn’t belong.
The gray siding of the duplex was marked by the same bright orange spray paint, the sidewalk too.
Silky put the car in park and grabbed the bucket hat off the seat next to him, pulling it down low over the oversized sunglasses he wore and utterly obscuring his blonde-tipped brown hair.
The tags were strange; he’d never seen anything like them. One looked like the head of a fork. Another like someone got lazy drawing a lightning bolt, the third was just four or five lines sprayed deliberately into a blobby sort of shape.
Silky pulled the desert eagle out of the glove compartment and tucked it into his baby-blue track pants. He didn’t bother using the matching jacket to cover it up. He wanted whoever was in there to know he was packing.
He’d scared some squatters out of the run down duplex a month ago and sure as shit wasn’t going to take them coming back onto Sangres turf and tag the fuck out of it.
The front door was wide open.
“If those strung out freeloading motherfuckers got into my motherfucking stash I’ll fucking kill them.”
Silky wasn’t sure who he was talking to as he psyched himself up before charging into the living room.
The first thing he noticed was the giant naked dude standing in the living room talking to someone in the kitchen.
“I’m telling you, piss is the best way to mark, it’s less conspicuous than bright orange spray paint and it sends a message.” – The naked dude.
The naked dude was gigantic, at least six foot four and built like a monster truck, his muscles had muscles.
Tattoos covered the man’s shoulders and back.
The man’s clothes sitting neatly folded on an upside-down cardboard box.
Why the fuck was the guy just standing there when his clothes were right there waiting for him?
Silky was having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand.
“Who the fuck do you fucks think you is?”
The naked dude turned around, his face was stern, but his eyes showed only confusion.
“What the fuck are you fuckers doing in my fucking house?!”
The naked dude’s face broke into a big grin.
“We’re trying to clean this cesspool.” – The naked dude
He just stood there naked, not even reaching for his clothes.
Silky heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs and turned to see a sixteen year old girl coming down the steps; she didn’t seem fazed by the naked dude.
“Who’s there?” – A woman’s voice came from the kitchen.
“It looks like some sort of Pimp; I think he’s looking for his stash.” – the naked guy called back.
“Why the fuck you naked, Motherfucker?” – Silky
The naked dude gestured as if to say “Why not?”
“You can have the stash, take it.” – Naked dude
“We left it all piled up for you in the first floor bedroom.” – The girl on the staircase.
“Don’t tell me what to do you naked motherfucker, I’ll fucking take it over your dead, motherfucking, body is what I’ll do!” – Silky
The naked dude started laughing.
Silky pulled the gun from his belt and holding it sideways, in fact he’d tilted the gun so far that it was nearly upside down.
The naked dude quit laughing.
“Take it and get the fuck out!” – The man growled.
Something about the way the guy growled scared the shit out of Silky. He didn’t just say it with a deep voice, he actually growled and suddenly Silky knew that the naked dude was dangerous, scary dangerous.
Silky stepped back and tripped over his own foot, before he knew what had happened the gun in his hand went off.
The recoil nearly broke his wrist.
Silky watched a hole appear in the guy’s chest, just below his left shoulder.
He saw the wall behind the guy turn bright red.
He heard the sounds of tearing cloth and something heavy hit the ground.
In front of him though, he saw the guy react to being shot.
He saw the naked dude’s eyes go wide and his brown eyes suddenly flash cold blue. Instead of falling backward, the guy lunged forward. Silky felt a sudden burst of icy wind as the guy disappeared, replaced by a gigantic gray wolf the size of a bear with the teeth of a lion.
The next part was harder to explain.
He remembered feeling those gigantic teeth on the sides of his head, he remembered the hot breath of the monster, but suddenly he was flipping end over end, weightlessly.
He saw the source of the loud thud from before, another giant bear-wolf thing, this one with reddish fur, was standing, ready to pounce at the foot of the stairs. The girl’s clothes, now shredded, were scattered all over the staircase.
He landed, impossibly, in the arms of a pretty black woman wearing rubber gloves and a do-rag and smelling like Lysol and moldy food.
She was holding him like a baby, which made no sense because Silky was over six feet tall himself.
But then she dropped him and as he fell, Silky saw the naked dude, a big-ass hole in his shoulder, standing over a body wearing a baby blue track suit.
In that instant Silky understood that he had been killed and as his head, severed from its body, hit the floor all he could think was:
37 Hours Earlier
The station wagon had seen better days.
Even before Chelsea broke out the driver’s side rear window and hotwired it the thing was a thirty-year-old rusted out piece of shit.
She’d been driving for 14 hours with an impossibly large man called Satch in her backseat covered in blood and impossibly deep wounds. If he were human he’d have been dead, hell, he should be dead anyway if Georgia hadn’t done everything she could to staunch his bleeding.
She didn’t know either of them well, they’d only met a week ago, when their packs were brought together to fight off a horde of Pure.
They were all that was left now, and they were driving west out of Florida as fast as they could.
- * *
It didn’t take long for Satch’s wounds to heal over, only a couple of hours really, but he still hurt all over as they crossed the Louisiana state line.
Georgia sat in the back of the wagon, her eyes locked on the road behind them, as if she was waiting for the monsters to come rushing out of the darkness behind them.
The Storm Lord couldn’t blame her.
He turned his head to face the driver and felt a sharp pain run down his back. Even though he was no longer battered or bruised, the cramped car had done little to alleviate his pain.
Chelsea was her name, couldn’t have been more than 16. She’d come out of the fight relatively unscathed, more battered and bruised than any truly serious damage, despite how she’d fought, but now he couldn’t help but see her as just a scared little girl.
She nodded but didn’t say a word; she hadn’t spoken at all since they’d fled the carnage behind them.
- * *
“We’re here.” – Chelsea
Georgia opened her eyes and realized that she’d been asleep.
“What time is it?” – Georgia
“Just after three a.m.” – Chelsea
Georgia looked up to see a sign that said “Welcome Home to New Calais”.
“Why here?” – Georgia
“It’s where we’re supposed to be.” – Chelsea.
Georgia grumbled. She hated it when Dreamers got cryptic.
“We need to go to ground, maybe hold up in one of these abandoned buildings.” – Chelsea.
“That motel seems like a good place to go to ground.” – Georgia pointed further down the street.
“The hell with that! I got us covered.” – Satch, holding up a duffle.
It was filled with money, ridiculous amounts of it.
“Hell yeah! Where did you get all of that?” – Chelsea.
“Past life, kid, past life. Now, let’s go get us a suite!” – Satch.
“No, there’s no way we’re doing something so stupid, we need to stay off the grid, we don’t know who’s claiming this territory or their views on outsiders. We just lost our packs, I don’t want to die too.” – Georgia.
“Staying “off the grid” isn’t going to keep them from noticing us. If they find us they find us, the trick is to keep our heads down on the street level, I figure the best way to do that is to that is to get off the street, and there is no reason why we can’t do that in style and comfort.” – Satch.
“How are we going to walk into some ritzy place looking like this? The girl and I look like hell with these clothes you got us and we’re still covered in blood and dirt!” – Georgia
“She’s got a point, we don’t exactly look like we’re high class.” – Chelsea.
“No, we look like we got ran through the garbage disposal.” – Georgia.
“The way we look doesn’t matter nearly as much as how our money looks and since it doesn’t look like you have any money I’ll be paying which means I get to decide where we’re going.” – Satch.
“I’ve never seen such a pretty boy Rahu in my entire life!” – Georgia.
“Enough! If you want to stay in that shit stain of a motel fine, but don’t be surprised when you wake up in worse shape than you are in now!”
“You uptight prissy son of a –”
Georgia stopped mid-sentence, cut off by the utterly inhuman growl, his eyes flashed blue as he glared at her.
She realized, quite suddenly, that she’d over stepped. That she’d gone too far.
“Fine, we’ll go to the hotel.” – Georgia, quietly.
They were driving past a strip mall when Satch told the girl to pull over.
“Why?” – Georgia
“There’s a clothes store, I can run in and get us something to look presentable with.”
Georgia couldn’t argue with the logic and evidently neither could Chelsea, because they were already pulling into the parking lot.
Satch stepped out of the car, still wearing his leather jacket despite the fact that it was bloody and shredded from the battle.
As he stepped out of the car he grew a full two feet, his short hair grew thicker and longer and though she couldn’t see it, Georgia knew he’d become unrecognizable.
Satch, now nearly nine feet tall, trudged off into the darkness. A minute later they heard the sound of glass breaking followed by silence.
“God knows what kind of alarm he set off.” – Chelsea, after they waited another few minutes.
“What do you think was in that duffle?” – Georgia
They’d stopped at the Florida/Georgia line and then still broken Satch had disappeared for ten minutes only to return covered in dirt and carrying a large duffle bag.
They both laughed.
“It’s not drugs.” – Satch, growled.
He was still wearing the Dalu and was carrying a lot of shopping bags.
“Bags, really?” – Chelsea
The giant shrugged, reverting to the Hishu as he did.
“It was easier to carry everything this way.” – Satch
One of the bags was filled with water bottles that they used to clean themselves up before getting dressed.
The clothes were off the rack and loose fitting, not so bad should they need to take on the Dalu again.
The blocks of abandoned buildings, decrepit homes and urban death that made up the neighborhood of “Green Lawn” slowly gave way to businesses and apartment complexes and skyscrapers as they reached the city’s business district, what the signage called “Dulac Park”.
The Fairbanks Hotel stood twenty-one stories tall, a shining white tower that spanned the length of a city block.
When Satch stepped inside he felt like he’d stepped back in time, the lobby spanned the entirety of its first floor, with gleaming marble floors and gilded columns. The expanse was dotted with luxurious leather sofas, tables and chairs and even a grand piano.
The woman manning the front desk was named Sherry and had blonde hair tall enough to remind him of the eighties.
“Welcome to the Fairbanks New Calais Hotel, do you have a reservation?” – Sherry.
“No, Sherry, I don’t but I was wondering what the largest suite you have available is.” – Satch.
“We have a two bedroom suite available, sir, for $788 dollars a night.” – Sherry, cheerfully.
“Wow, hmmm. Well, that is steep. I would like to pay for five nights, though I only plan on staying for two. Meanwhile, if the money spent on the other three nights disappears, obviously no one would know about it, or me or my friends, who would, of course come in through the back, completely unseen by the cameras.”
Sherry looked at the large stack of money he placed on the desk in front of her.
“Welcome back to the Fairbanks Hotel Mr. Romano, it’s so nice to see you back so soon after your last visit.” – Sherry.“It’s good to be back, Sherry.”
“A flea bag motel. Really, Georgia, you should be ashamed of yourself for even suggesting it.” – Satch, once the door was closed.
“Oh. My. God!” – Chelsea squealed as she ran into the living room and jumped on the sumptuous couch.
“I’ll admit this is nice, Satch.”
“Well, now that you can admit that, I’ll leave the two of you to fight over who gets the second bedroom. I got the master!”
Georgia ignored him; she was too busy staring out the window, her hands pressed against the glass.
“You’ve got to see this.”
“What?” – Chelsea, rolling off the couch, she was already starting to fall asleep.
“The view can’t be that good.” – Satch, following after.
But it was.
It was a park, and it was huge, like a wetland central park smack dab in the middle of downtown New Calais. There were baseball diamonds and a carousel, there were vast fields and creeks and ponds and all lit up by the light of the half-moon set in clear sky.
“Wow.” – Satch.
“If only the wild could be so peaceful. Look at the rose garden!” – Chelsea, pointing east.
Georgia laughed at the girl’s naivety.
“Come on, kids, let’s get some sleep. It’s been a hell of a night.” – Satch.
The morning after next
After a long and very hot shower, Georgia left on foot, slipping out of the hotel quietly and found a thrift store as quickly as she could.
They’d laid low in the hotel for two days, just like Satch insisted, but if she’d stayed inside any longer she’d have turned on the both of them. They were already starting to feel like a pack, and Georgia didn’t like it. Somewhere out there her pack’s bodies were still warm. Hell, there was even a chance that they were still breathing.
Of course that was a lie.
The wise-guy had given her a couple of bundles of twenties worth about $500 total and three burner phones that he’d picked up earlier in the morning. The guy was loaded but was playing a little too loose with his cash.
The burner phones were a good idea.
She bought a cropped T-shirt and a pair of track pants along with a messenger bag and a light weight jacket and some shoes and then, stuffing everything including the shoes into the bag went for a run.
It didn’t take long for her to get a feel for the city. She was an urban explorer and a free runner since before the Moon called her and her new senses and instincts made her all the better at it; before she knew it she was subsumed into the flow.
Soon she was running down allies and leaping over fences, letting her instincts and intuition take her where they may.
Where they took her was far from the gleaming towers of the Dulac Park and Calais Proper (who calls their downtown “Calais Proper”) and back to the run down streets of Green Lawn.
She found herself atop a smallish square building, a machine shop or garage by the smell of it. She slipped her water bottle out of the bag and took a long pull as she stepped to the building’s edge. Sure enough, it was a repair shop, and a well tagged one too. Some of those tags showed the telltale signs of being territorial marks, but they were old and faded, some even covered.
“I need some paint.”
Chelsea hit the streets with a map of the city and all the energy that a teenaged girl could muster. She brought the duffle of books given to her by George Sky-Seeker, her pack’s rite-master and lore-keeper. She had made a promise to keep it safe should anything happen to him and she was going to keep it.
There was a hotdog stand two blocks away from the hotel and Chelsea bought two. George used to go on and on about how evil hot dogs were. All Chelsea knew was that they were delicious.
She took her hot dogs and her map and headed due south-east into the city, painfully aware of the fact that she looked like a tourist.
That was okay though, because she was.
She quickly found herself back in Green Lawn. Chelsea figured that with all the buildings she’d seen abandoned last night there was a good chance that they could find a block or two of unmarked or poorly guarded territory for them to carve out, at least until they were able to get back on their feet.
Why was she thinking of them as a unit? They weren’t her pack. Her pack was dead.
It didn’t take long for Chelsea to spot the first set of marks. These were tribal; Talon and Lord to be specific, and they were on opposite sides of the thoroughfare which meant that the packs were at least smart enough to not make travel hell between territories. She put the map in her bag and began following the marks, careful to stay off on the sidewalk and not to turn down the wrong alley.
There was something else too. A smell she just couldn’t shake, like mildewed clothes after a few clean washes.
Chelsea looked up at the building across the street. It was one of four, all spaced so closely together that they didn’t even have proper alleys between them. This one was on the far right though, bookending the block. Most of the buildings on the block were abandoned or run down, but this one seemed to want to be left alone.
It had a large metal sign going down the front of it, from roof to door reading HOTEL in long broken neon lights. It didn’t seem to have a name.
The door was locked with an accordion-like gate and she looked at it for a long time while making a note to learn how to pick locks.
Maybe there was an open window around back.
Unfortunately the windows were all boarded up all around the building, forcing her to walk nearly the entire way around block to find the service entrance. A small placard read “The El Dorado Hotel”. The service door, too, was locked. It was metal too, meaning that it was unlikely that she couldn’t even get in if she took up the Urshul.
Luckily she found the fire escape.
Taking the Dalu, Chelsea jumped and grabbed the bottom rung with ease before returning to the Hishu as the ladder rolled down toward the ground. She’d assumed she was going to have to break a window when she found one unlocked on the fourth floor.
“I’m going in.” – Chelsea, to no one in particular.
She was climbing through the window anyway when she noticed the handprint on the windowsill. It was black against the faded gray paint, and it was small, smaller than hers, but with too long fingers.
Chelsea scratched at the black print. It smelled sticky-sweet with just a hint of metal. It was old, but it was still unmistakably, blood.
Her phone chirped and Chelsea let out a small yelp as she nearly fell back out of the window.
It was Georgia with an address.
“Thank God.” – Chelsea as she closed the window behind her and fled.
It turned out that the two of them had been on the same track, The GPS said that Georgia was only a mile or so away, and only a block east of a neighborhood park.
Chelsea’s high hopes were almost instantly dashed by the state of the neighborhood. Half the homes had been boarded up and two businesses had recently caught fire.
“Not bad for unclaimed territory, it’s even got a branch of the New Calais Library two blocks north. The Territory covers about nine blocks east to west and four north to south, more than enough to carve out of if we don’t decide to keep the whole thing.” – Georgia
“That’s huge, how can it be uncontested?”
“We’re going to find out. Whoever claimed it is long gone. Their markers were literally scratched out in some places.”
“I texted him at the same time as you, he’s meeting with an accountant. No, seriously. He says he’ll be here as soon as he’s done.” – Georgia
Chelsea nodded sagely before stopping dead. Across the street was a duplex with a For Sale sign posted in the tiny strip of grass that counted as its front lawn.
On the sign, in bright orange spray paint was the unmistakable mark of the Hunters in Darkness.
“Subtle.” – Chelsea
“It’s not my fault that the building foreclosed and it’s been empty for more than six months.” – Georgia
Chelsea couldn’t argue with that logic, Georgia took her inside the duplex’s left apartment and showed her around, it seemed that they weren’t the first to squat here, though judging by the state of the place, the others had long moved on. Chelsea dropped her bag in the kitchen, where Georgia showed her that the copper plumbing had been torn out of the walls.
“It just doesn’t smell right.” – Chelsea
“Beggars can’t be choosers, girl.”
“No, the neighborhood, it smells wrong… like… I can’t place it.”
Georgia sniffed the air, but didn’t notice anything.
“let me show you something.” – Chelsea, taking her outside.
In the front yard was a phone-pole. It had been tagged once by whatever pack had called this home, but the tag was faded, just like the others.
“Yeah, like I said, whoever ran this territory’s long gone.”
“No, look at the scratches.” – Chelsea, pointing
Sure enough, someone had scratched at the tag with a small blade.
“Is that a Swiss Army knife?” – Georgia
“Maybe.” – Chelsea wasn’t so sure.
Chelsea told her friend about the Hotel she’d found.
Satch pulled up on the duplex in as non-descript of a sedan as he could find. It was rented of course.
He saw the twin marks, one marking the Hunters in Darkness tribe, the other belonging to the Iron Masters Tribe.
Georgia was heading around to the back of the property with a massive, overfull black trash bag.
“Nothing says we have to be filthy.” – Georgia yelled over her shoulder.
Satch was sporting a simple polo shirt and jeans; he’d picked them up before meeting with the accountant his own accountant in Miami had set up for him.
Satch saw the foreclosure notice and noted the number. He’d always been interested in owning property outside of Miami.
“This is foul.” – Satch.
“You think this is bad, stay out of the bathrooms.” – Chelsea, coming downstairs wearing a pair of kitchen gloves and a breath mask.
The Living room was long, leading to the back of the house which is where Satch guessed he’d find the kitchen. The stairs were to the left of the front door and he was pretty sure that there was a bathroom underneath them. He opened the door to his right and saw a very small bedroom.
“What’s in the duffels?” – Satch
“Someone’s drug stash.” – Chelsea, from upstairs.
“Huh. If they don’t come back soon we’re getting rid of them.” – Satch
He pulled out his phone while standing in the doorway.
It took an hour of checking but according to the guy his new accountant got him in touch with, there was nothing keeping him from buying the property for a song.
“Do we really want to buy it though?” – Georgia
“Why not, it’s not like we have much to go home too.” – Satch
Georgia looked down.
“Sorry, that was… uncouth.” – Satch, picking up one of the largest cardboard box they’d found.
When Georgia came out of the kitchen to talk to him, Satch had already kicked his shoes off and was currently folding his shirt carefully against his chest.
“What are you doing?”
“Changing.” – Satch, his teeth clenched on the shirt’s collar.
“You can do that with your clothes on.” – Georgia
Satch laid the shirt down on top of his socks.
“Are you crazy? What if I get hurt? I just bought this shirt; I don’t want blood all over it. What am I, some kind of animal?” – Satch, unbuttoning his shorts.
Feet barreled down the stairs.
“Oh my god you’re naked.” – Chelsea, she didn’t avert her eyes.
Satch went wide eyed before vanishing, replaced by a very large gray wolf.
“Now you see what you did? She’s a child, Satchel!” – Georgia
The wolf groaned before skulking out the front door.
The women broke into laughter.
“That was mean.” – Chelsea
“See what I mean? If I’d been wearing my clothes they’d have been covered in blood right now.” – Satch, standing over the dead gangbanger’s head in Dalu.
“Calm down big guy.” – Chelsea
“I’m good, I’m good… I just gotta breathe for a second.”
“You’ve been shot.” – Georgia
“Yeah. I got that.” – Satch grimaced as he turned to look at the spray of blood on the wall.
The bleeding had stopped of course, but it still hurt so very much.
“You stupid son of a bitch, let me look at it.” – Georgia, coming from having shut the door.
The damage was extreme. The gun had been loaded with hollow points and even though the entry wound was relatively small, the exit wound took up most of the Mafioso’s back.
If he were human he’d be dead, or in shock.
“I’m going to get a cleaning crew.” – Satch.
“No! how would we explain the bloodstains on the wall and carpet?” – Georgia, grabbing her first aid kit. She’d just bought it.
Satch looked nonplussed.
“I’m talking about a Mob cleanup crew, sweetie. I got connections that’ll make sure you wouldn’t even recognize the place.” – Satch.
“I like hard floors.” – Chelsea, having once again taken the Hishu.
“See, she’s in.” – Satch, putting his good arm around the girl.
Chelsea didn’t take her eyes off his groin.
“Clothes, man!” – Georgia, stopping just long enough to throw his shorts at him.
“How am I supposed to put these on right now?” – Satch.
“I can help!” – Chelsea
“No!” – Satch and Georgia together.
“You can at least cover yourself until I’m done wrapping you up. This is ugly, Satch.”
“It doesn’t feel particularly good either. Honey, can you get my phone?” – Satch to Chelsea
“You’re going to have to shrink down if I’m going to make the bandage tight.” – Georgia.
Satch did as he was told, making the pain almost unbearable.
“Don’t worry; you’ll be fine in no time. Be glad that you’ve already stopped bleeding.”
Satch’s contacts gave him the number for something called O’Dell Farm’s Salvage, a cursory google maps showed him that it wasn’t so far away, just near the southern tip of the city. Evidently the guy to talk to was “the Rock”.
“This is the Rock, how can I help you?” – the voice on the phone.
“I got a messy situation here that needs some…uh… old carpet disposal?”
“Understood, we’ll be stopping buy in a bit to pick it up.” – The rock hung up the phone.
Sure enough about a half hour later a 10 year old pickup with O’Dell Farms plastered on the side of the door. The girls had only just taken off to get more cleaning supplies.
The guy barely opened the door before Satch smelled it. This kid was a wolf.
He was tall and lanky, his hay colored hair stuck out of his hat in all directions. He smelled like diesel, oil and blood.
His overalls were open to show a black t-shirt advertising some band Satch had never heard of.
What he did recognize was the patch with the company name on it. It was made to look like a simple design, all straight lines and circles, it was a pack mark.
“The fuck are you?” – The wolf, his nametag said his name was mark.
“I’m Mark O’dell, Cahalith of the Dogs of Woe, who the fuck are you and who do you run with. You don’t look like a Harvester, which means this ain’t your territory.” – Mark
“We weren’t aware of anyone’s claim, the markings were inconclusive.” – Satch.
The wolf laughed.
“Well. If that’s how you wanna run it. You got some carpet you need moving?” – Mark
“Yeah, its inside, so this is claimed? All the marks are faded. I’m Satchel Francetti, by the way, me and my friends just got into town night before last.”
“Oh yeah, all this’s been watched by the Harvesters since… they’ve been keeping an eye on it for a while. They’re set up just south east of here on Willow.” – Mark, shaking Satch’s hand
“What can you tell me about them?” – Satch, handing the kid a beer.
“Well, they’re the big players around these parts since Blackdog got ganked a few months back in a robbery. Shotgun to the back of the head, man, not even we can come back from that.”
“That’d do it.” – Satch, nodding.
“Yeah, anyway, since then his pack has been running in smaller circles and the Harvesters have been picking up the slack – God damn, but you made a mess! But it looks like he got a piece of you too.” – Mark
“Who are the Harvester guys?” – Satch
“They’re young, but their run by a half-moon named Jack. Rumor has it she’s got ties to the Sangres… like this guy here. The pack’s only four strong right now and they’re young, so you got that going for you, but they know the area too, that and they got that fucking half black swede, Tree. He’s a big fucker, twice as tall as this house. Probably cheats at cards too.” – Mark
All the while Mark talked he was moving boxes and other things out of the way. He jotted down notes too, especially while looking at the spatter on the wall.
“Got you really good, didn’t he? You’re lucky you didn’t go the way of Blackdog.”
“Yeah, there’s less pain now, I can even feel my fingers again.” – Satch laughed.
“Can I ask you something, Mark? Would you take it and keep it?” – Satch, following mark out to his truck for a small metal tool box.
“Nah, we dogs cover the south end of the Lawn.”
“But if you were looking?”
“I don’t know, three wolves covering as much land as they cover? They ain’t no Blackdog’s Pack with generations of contacts. I might try to keep it peaceful like, maybe take over by working it before they took notice.” – Mark, pulling a box cutter out of the tool box.
Satch watched as the smaller wolf cut out the carpet and rolled up what was left of the dead thug. He commented more than once that it was lucky that he was headless because it looked less obvious on the street. He through the head into a big yellow bucket and clamped the lid on tight.
He dealt with the wall last, bringing out a number of nasty smelling chemicals and spraying it down before mopping it.
Afterward, they discussed the fee in more detail and Satch through in an extra five bills.
“For the information.” – Satch
“Much obliged, Mr. Francetti, if you ever find yourself in a situation like this again, be sure to give us a call. And good luck with the Territory, it’s classy.”
By the time he left it was six o’clock and the sun was already starting to go down, setting the sky on fire.
His back was still stiff, but by the time the wolf left the pain had become the dull ache of a bruise. Satch pulled the wrap off and called the girls, if there was another pack nearby they’d better get ready.
The ladies came home with pizza and beer, and coke for Chelsea. The pizza was good, nothing to write home about but not bad seeing as they had no idea what else to eat.
With no running water or electricity they were eating by electric lantern and had already decided to sleep as wolves, not for any defensive purpose but because they’d be at their most comfortable as wolves.
Georgia was working on her third beer when they heard a knock at the door. Satch had warned them about the other pack but they also had to worry about the gang that little boy blue belonged to. Either way, she was ready for a fight.
Not that ready though.
The man in the doorway stood at least seven feet tall, and he was definitely a wolf.
Without thinking Georgia took up the Dalu, not that that closed the gap much.
The human shaped tree wore a green tank top and camo sorts and his giant blond bearded face was framed by a large green bucket hat.
“Hi!” – Chelsea, poking her head around the door.
“So you’re the squatters.” – a woman’s voice
It came from behind the giant blond black guy.
Georgia pushed Chelsea back into the house as a petite woman with a mane of black hair that reached down to her waist stepped around the man in the doorway. She was dressed in skinny jeans and a Five Finger Death Punch t-shirt under a tight fitting black leather jacket. Despite her small size her demeanor screamed alpha. Her jacket had a set of red patches that marked her as both Storm Lord and Half Moon.
“First rule about keeping house in Green Lawn? The “rock” is chatty as hell, I’m Jack, this is Tree, I figured we should have a quick chat.” – The woman.
“I’m Georgia. How can we help you?”
Jack stepped into the house.
“Well, see, this is our neighborhood. Really, most of the Lawn is ours, we let the Dogs of Woe have the dump because, really who gives a fuck? But the Lawn’s ours.” – Jack
“We didn’t mean any harm, the markings were all faded and scratched out, we assumed it was open territory. We’re just trying to get back on our feet.” – Satch stepping around the corner.
“Yeah, we got a vandal.” – Jack
“Sounds like you’ve got issues beside us than.” – Georgia
Jack smiled stiffly.
“Yeah, I used to live in a neighborhood with a lot of vandalism too. You work so hard to get your yard looking just right and some ass comes by and toilet papers your trees and throws eggs at your front door.” – Chelsea
Tree was in the house now too, though he had to hunch to get all the way in.
“Even if it is a vandal, he hasn’t had to do much to cover those marks in a very long time. It’s pretty obvious that you’re not keeping up. Besides, those marks don’t match your patch there.” – Chelsea continued.
Jack walked up to Chelsea, the two were close enough in height that they could look each other dead in the eye.
“Are you really trying to call squatter’s rights on our territory?” – Jack
By the time she was done talking, Jack had grown more than a foot.
“Yeah.” – Chelsea, unflinching.
Satch bristled, matching the stranger shape for shape. Tree, finding himself in the odd position to be too big for anything but his human shape still stood ready to protect his alpha.
“Your vandal is doing more than defacing your year old marks, they’ve also set up shop in an old hotel not far from here. So I’m assuming that, since you own the lawn, you’re totally cool with something tainting it.” – Chelsea.
Jack’s amber eyes went wide and she was once again just a young woman with too much hair.
“If you want to play house in here, that’s fine, hell we’ll even give you some space. What do you think, Tree? Six blocks?” – Jack
Tree grunted in agreement.
“Yeah, six blocks’ll do you just fine, you can run the area from Skemp park south to Wickham and west to Jackson. That way we got a nice buffer between your territory and ours.”
“Come on, Tree, we’re done here.” – Jack
Chelsea heard a truck’s engine turn over outside when the door opened, she and the others followed them outside.
“Hey, Tree?” – Chelsea
The big guy looked up at her warily.
No one was on the street to notice three wolves running single file down the street due east, towards the back entrance of the old El Dorado.
Despite Chelsea being the one that initially knew the way, it was Georgia that reached the fire escape first, shifting effortlessly from wolf to the near-human Dalu mid-stride.
“Where’s the open window?” – Georgia
“The window to the left, top floor.” – Chelsea, panting slightly from trying to keep up with the runner.
“What is that smell?” – Satch.
“I haven’t been able to place it all day.” – Chelsea
Georgia flew up the fire escape at a speed that was dizzying and was waiting for them in the wolf shape when they reached the window.
Chelsea scratched between her ears absent mindedly as she passed her.
The Interior of the El Dorado was at least 40 years out of date. The wallpaper that had once been a garish “harvest yellow” had mildewed into a nasty papier-Mache gray and the shag carpet was green and slimy with decades’ worth of damp and rot.
The part of Georgia that was still the woman was having a hard time coping with the onslaught of the odors but the wolf was in control, and she was analyzing the various scents and tastes.
She growled a warning to the others when she found a too-soft spot in the flooring and she was sure she smelled a disproportionate amount of vermin excrement through the nutty scents of the various molds and fungi.
“You’re braver than I am, babe.” – Satch
That moment of distraction was all it took for her to get a snout full of mold spoor and quite suddenly the black-furred wolf couldn’t stop sneezing and snorting.
“So much for the element of surprise.” – Chelsea
The sixteen year old was rolling her eyes as she stepped past the still sneezing wolf and opened the door that Georgia hadn’t yet come too, though the door had long since swollen shut, forcing her to put her shoulder into it.
It was the smell that hit her first. All of the mold and mildew and rot had masked the charnel smell of rotten meat and blood. The next thing that hit her was more literal as an arm, separated from whatever body it had once belonged to, and slick from decay and the wet Louisiana heat, flopped down onto her sneaker palm up.
The entire room was filled with body parts. Dogs, cats, rodents and people all torn apart and tossed together and left to stew in their own enzymes.
Chelsea kicked the hand back into the room and slammed the door, doing everything in her power not to retch.
“What was that?” – Satch
“Bodies. Rotting bodies. Dozens of them.” – Chelsea between ragged breaths.
“Step aside. Let me look.” – Satch.
The Warrior let his nascent pack-mate get some distance before he opened the door and stepped in, shutting the door behind him. Chelsea had moved all the way back to the window.
He was gone a long time. Long enough for Chelsea to get worried that maybe something was in there with him. She’d heard Truth-Seeker tell tales of spirits of murder and violence who would create horrors like that in which to feast, maybe one had grown strong enough in that pit to fully manifest in the world.
When the door opened Chelsea steeled herself for whatever might come out but it was just Satch.
His face was cold and hard like stone and in that moment she saw why the Moon had chosen him as her killer.
“They were butchered, obviously; necks broken, heads caved in, throats cut. The only thing they all have in common are their abdomens, they’ve all been gutted by something with very long, very thin fingers. Whatever it is, it’s not human and it’s not one of us.” – Satch
“Did they look like the scratches on the Territory marks?” – Chelsea
Satch nodded. As she got closer she could smell the saltiness of his sweat mixed with something that smelled a hell of a lot like fear.
It’s pretty damned close.
“So are we in this thing’s den or dumping ground?” – Georgia, suddenly human again.
“I’m more concerned that it might be here now.” – Satch.
“I think we might want to warn the Harvesters.” – Chelsea
“Why? They didn’t warn us.” – Satch
“We should blow this place.” – Georgia
“You want to blow it up?”
“Well, no. But we should burn it to the ground.” – Georgia
“Would you mind maybe finding out what, exactly, we’re dealing with first?” – Satch
He didn’t wait for a response and simply started walking down the hall towards the stairwell gaining mass as he took on the Dalu to better see in the lightless hotel before coming to a sudden stop.
“Uh, guys, have either of you tried to look across?” – Satch
“No, why?” – Chelsea, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the Shadow.
The Rahu didn’t have to answer. Though it was nearly pitch black in the World, the shadow was usually filled with the muted light cast by motes and ribbons of floating essence generated by the resonance of so much death, violence and decay.
But that just made what she saw worse.
The corridor’s walls and ceiling were seething with ichorous blackness, with the ceiling occasionally dripping the bilious effluvia; the sight was so horrific that it took Chelsea a moment to realize that she was seeing this without any trouble, as if she had already physically crossed over.
It was as if the Gauntlet wasn’t there at all.
“I think we should go guys. I think I know what this is. I need to look at Truth-Seeker’s books.” – Chelsea, slipping through the window into the blessed light of the half moon.
She remembered her Lore-Master telling her about something like this before. He’d only told the story once and she’d yet to realize the importance of his old stories.
She couldn’t remember much about it, except one thing. A word or a name in first tongue, one that made her hair stand on end, she whispered it like a word of power all the way home, racing through the dark in the dire-shape.