Evan groaned as he regained consciousness, “How long was I out?” He asked blinking the spots from his eyes.
No answers were forthcoming; things were unusually quiet for the city. No footfalls, no cars, no machinery, not even the sound of his breath.
That got to him, the wrongness of it, nothing was ever supposed to be that quiet. Not just his breath, his pulse as well was absent. Pushing two fingers to his carotid artery Evan could still find his heart beat.
He once again blinked trying to clear his eyes. Evan discovered it was a futile effort; nothing was wrong with his eyes there just wasn’t anything to see. Every direction a featureless black, with no visible light sources despite being able to see himself clearly.
“You don’t have a shadow, even if there was light to see one.” A voice said from behind, “did I get the timing right? That’s the question I was asking myself at about this point.”
Evan came to his feet turning to look at the speaker who he hadn’t head approach. It was a man in his early to mid-twenties. Caucasian with features mixed enough to be from a couple of parts of Europe. His hair a shabby mess.
He wasn’t very attractive, or ugly just about average. His confident open stance, and friendly smile offset that quite a bit. The shotgun slung over his shoulder, and the two pistols one in a shoulder holster and the other at his hip made Evan slightly warier.
“Ignore the guns; I was headed on a hunting trip when you came to my attention. Do you know where you are?” The man asked.
“I’m starting to think your domain, so a lot of trouble,” Evan answered in a carefully controlled voice.
“Well you’re wrong on both counts, you’re about as far out of trouble as a human can get, and frankly I don’t have the audacity to claim this place as my domain.”
“So where is this?” Evan asked.
“Can’t say, you might not be in trouble, but I’m skirting the line here. We should get moving.”
The man walked past Evan, his feet making a clicking sound on the floor as if made of marble. Evan’s footsteps were silent, and he hurried to keep up.
“Where are we going?” Evan asked.
“We’re going to have to walk and talk, as long as I follow you we’ll get where we’re going, but I know neither the destination nor the journey. I’ll get in trouble if you’re late,” the man said.
Evan stopped walking, “what are you talking about?”
“Look,” the man said turning to face Evan, “you aren’t in Kansas anymore, and you’re on a timetable, so follow the yellow brick road because you don’t want to get lost.”
He pointed down; they were indeed on a yellow brick road, or Evan was. The road seemed to be growing from the man’s footsteps. The man started walking again the road growing behind him; Evan followed not sure what else to do.
“I thought you we following me?”
“What does it look like I’m doing? Can you remember how you got here?” He asked.
“No,” Evan answered.
“That’s normal, what’s the last thing you remember?”
“I was looking for something; I’m not sure what.”
“Still normal, what’s the last day you remember clearly?” The man asked.
I was out with some friends, Friday. Is that today?”
“It was my whole circle I think, eight of us.” Evan frowned, “no seven Mark wasn’t there, he offered to go ahead and prep the ritual circle. We got delayed, by something,” Evan trailed off.
“This circle what do you get up to?”
“We like to call ourselves Druids, but mostly just outdoors stuff. Some tracking, good weather, we’ve tried general good luck, but we don’t know if it works.” Evan said, “we like extreme sports, mountain climbing, BASE jumping, SCUBA.”
“Sounds like a lot of fun.”
“It was… Is, Mark’s dead isn’t he? When we got to the circle, his throat was torn out.” Evan said, “why didn’t I remember that?”
“Everyday stuff sticks around the longest, it’s the exceptional stuff you have to reach for. What happened next? You only have so far to go,” the man asked.
“What about you, I have so far to go, I have a path, I’m expected. I don’t even know where we are or what’s going on,” Evan asked.
“I’m just a carrion eater, we come and go where we will, wanted or not,” he answered.
“That’s a fucking horrifying answer,” Evan said stopping. He looked back considering going a different way. Behind him was a city that had grown up from the yellow road, he couldn’t place any of the street names or building but still it looked familiar.
At the end of the road just barely in sight was a shadow, the carrion eater grabbed his shoulder before he could run.
“Stay on the path, keep walking, don’t look back and it will never catch you,” the carrion eater said. “Now let’s start walking again. You were telling me what your circle did next.”
“We called around, to see if anyone knew anything, mostly it was just a bunch of dead ends. Tracking just led us to a bunch of random construction sites, and empty shipping containers. Is, is it still following us?”
The carrion eater didn’t even look back, “yeah, don’t worry it’s always following. Just stay on the path, so you found a dead end, but you’re here so something must have worked. Or not worked, or worked but no in the way you expected or wanted. It can’t have been a total dead end.”
“Uh yeah, we talked to the Librarian, gave us some book. A compilation of letters or something, a weird style.”
“So the Librarian gave you a copy of Dracula, that’s a good start I guess. I would expect there to be a vampire slaying manual or something, seems like an oversight.” The carrion eater said.
“What? Vampire? It was a vampire wasn’t it? How did you know? How did I not know that?”
“Keep walking Evan,” he said as Evan stopped at the revelation. “The sheer number of things I know would astonish you, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you don’t. So what happened next?”
“Something important about the containers, something in the book. It killed us didn’t it?” Evan asked.
“Damn it, we’re out of distance,” the carrion eater said in reply. Before them was a black wall, distinguishable from the rest of the void as it reflected their images. The city and the road behind them were not.
Evan looked at himself his throat partially mutilated, one arm broken, two ribs sticking out of his left side. There was less blood than he expected, somehow it wasn’t all that disconcerting.
“We tracked him to a warehouse but there was only one container left, we should have waited for daybreak but them we might have missed him.”
The carrion eater was reflected differently in every way as a black teenage girl. The carrion eater didn’t pause just strode forward into his female reflection, they both vanished. Looking back Evan saw the shadow had come closer; he rushed forward into his reflection.
“Sorry,” Corvid said standing up from Evan’s corpse. “Sometimes all you can do is be with someone. Maybe if we had gotten here sooner.”
The warehouse they were in was largely empty, and quite close to being condemned. A few large and mostly broken windows near the top let in the only light at the massacre.
Five of Evan’s circle broken, every joint bend the wrong way, ribs pulled out and reinserted backwards. The bodies arranged in a pentagram with Evan the center. He was mostly uninjured, just enough to keep him immobilized. He had been fed on, rather gruesomely leaving his neck mutilated.
He had been alive when they arrived, which was probably a worse fate considering he had been there the whole day and at least part of the night.
“So much for our blazing rescue,” the fox said. He had identified himself as Michael on the way over. “If we had made is sooner could you have saved him?”
“Depends on how much sooner, last night? Sure. By noon? Maybe.”
“It would have been nice to know how they got here in the first place; we had no idea this particular random warehouse was important. Heck, we don’t even find out if they found the vampire or it found them.” The Promethean named Andrea said.
“Walk me through the timeline again?” Corvid asks.
“One of their members died around the time we were having the council meeting. They got all gung-ho about tracking the monster down for revenge. Talked to most of the usual people for information, apart from the Librarian no one had anything. Around noon today the Prometheans received an SOS from their leader’s phone, it leads here. We were already planning to go after the monster, so we picked you up on the way.” Michael answered.
“How remarkably useless,” Corvid mutters, “what about this group who were they?”
“A rather good choice for monster hunting, they’re adrenaline junkies. They wanted to go higher and faster than anyone; they’ve even been known to fight magical creatures for the thrill. The would have been running on physical enhancement magic out the ass, regeneration, durability. Exactly the psychos I would bring to a fight, borderline suicidal to they’ve lost three members in the last five years to accidents.” Andrea answered.
“Any theories on why this warehouse?” Corvid asks.
“Something was stored here until recently, fresh dirt on the ground. The dust says that this place wasn’t in use until maybe the last week. Now it’s empty so I’d say temporary storage,” Triss answered. She had tagged along after the hunting party had dragged Corvid out to play hero.
“I don’t suppose a place like this keeps records?” Andrea asked, Michael just laughed in answer.
“Maybe the truck was rented, or a moving company hired,” Gerudman said when everyone looked at him in confusion he continued. “They’ll probably have GPS.”
“Are you suggesting we search the records of every company that has a truck big enough to move a shipping container?” Asked Michael.
“Well no, there is floor space for a lot of containers in here, and quite a bit of it used. No cranes so it was a single level, I’d say more than fifteen less than forty all in the last week. That will leave a trail a mile wide,” Gerudman answered.
“I am so glad we have a directive with us, and it’s not me,” Andrea added.
“It had better not be me; I’m not even part of this little team,” Corvid said.
“Fuck you all in alphabetical order,” Michael grumbled. “So before we call this a day, any thoughts on the human pentagram?”
“Well that’s obvious isn’t it,” Triss said. Focus was redirected to her as she continued.
“This circle was probably one of the most dangerous ones, at least for the vampire. So he broke them as blatantly as he could. The pentagram a symbol which we use for ourselves, our magic and a symbol of life defiled. He made his with the broken remains of our best inverting the meaning, making it a thing of death. It’s an elegant way of saying he isn’t afraid of us or our magic while also staking a claim to the city as a part of his territory. There are two other possible interpretations, one is to stay out of his business, the other is a declaration of war.”
“He’s telling us to stay the fuck out of his way, or fucking bring it. Well anyone feel like hiding in a foxhole?” Gerudman asked.
“I’ve had scarier monsters for lunch, let’s turn him to ash,” Michael said. Andrea just laughed cracking her knuckles.