When we entered the courtyard, I had to take a moment to take the sight in. All around us were dozens of men in hooded jackets, assault rifles and other kinds of combat gear walking around, talking, smoking or standing around barrel fires. They were all human too, no werewolves in sight.
Clawhammer led us across the crumbling road towards the front doors of the airport which were barricaded with metal sheets bolted together and barbed wire around the top. A man wielding a belt-fed machine gun greeted Clawhammer at the entrance. After a brief word, we were let inside.
“Whoa.” I breathed as I looked skywards.
Above me was a great skylight, still there and in good condition. I could see a couple of men up there walking around, cleaning snow off of it.
The airport itself though was a great big space with three floors. Where we stood was flat and open, with nothing above us from here to the far end of the building. On either side of us were two floors worth of barricades and armed guards, most of which regarded us with curious, untrusting eyes. I noticed that on my right side there were a few signs warning people not to go any further, and beyond the sings was rubble piling up in hallways.
Clawhammer caught me looking and stared at me with his three eyes, “They reckon that after the apocalypse here, strange types of weather tore across the world. Sometimes you walk into an area and find yourself floating, other times ball-lightening will form for seemingly no reason. Something like that occurred here in the past, so that is why those corridors are collapsed.”
“God... so that must be related to the flux wave that came through here.”
He looked at me curiously, his frills on his back and arms spiking up straight in tandem, “You know about that?”
I nodded back to him, “Found some old documents in a building a while back. I guess the flux wave had something to do with all of this.”
He nodded again and turned around, speaking to me over his shoulder, “Indeed, a terrible thing.”
“It’s all so weird.” I said, still taking in the sights.
Somewhere in the distance I could hear Spanish rap playing loudly as well as clinking and talking. It must have been a bar or something.
“Come with me through here.” Clawhammer said, quickly gesturing for us to follow him down a narrow corridor. Amaline and Felix eyed me worriedly, but I shrugged.
“We’ve got to follow him, it might be the only way we can figure out more about this artefact and where Charley is.” I said.
Together we walked down the dimly lit, dusty grey hallway. I noticed the remnants of old signs in English and French above the few doors here; some pointing out janitor cupboards, others offices and break rooms. Most of the rooms had now been converted into living quarters, and in one room I could hear clanging and smell smoke. A brief glance revealed the room to be some kind of blacksmith’s workplace, with about five men in masks making all sorts of tools and weapons, even some rifles.
Continuing onwards, we approached a set of green metal double-doors with long, thin windows on them, and beyond appeared to be a large, dark room lit by fires.
Clawhammer strode towards the doors, throwing them open with a dramatic shove as he held his arms to the sides, and then slowly lowered them. He turned to us and nodded back to the room, a gesture for us to enter.
We walked in together, and I was quite speechless by what I saw.
The room was as wide as it was tall, and very spacious. There were broken old platforms up near the ceiling with some armed men patrolling, along with hanging fires from the roof casting a dramatic glow. On the ground ahead of us were wooden steps leading up to a raised platform, and on that platform there were tables, blackboards with documents, chairs and some computers blinking. Around the platform were barrel fires and torches, making the place look like some freak mix between a medieval king’s throne room and a hastily set up military office.
Over a dozen men were on the bottom floor, but these guys were wearing old military gear. I couldn’t tell where from, so I assumed it was old Utopian body armour. On the platform were six of the men, two armed and armoured but the last four were around the table, talking and pointing at something there.
The sudden sound of metal rattling made me jump and take a quick breath. I turned my head to the left and saw a giant metal cage with some feathery creature thrashing around inside.
Amaline gasped and covered her mouth with her hand as her tail curled down around her legs, “Oh my God..!”
It stopped with its back turned. It looked like some kind of large cat with big fur covered talons and claws, but a tail like a wolf that was long and fluffy that twisted from side to side in what looked like anxiety. I could make out a mane of feathers by its neck which was bright white all up and down from head to shoulders, but the feathers turned brown as they went down its body to its hindquarters making it look more like a bald eagle. Its legs and backside were a mix of fur and feathers which made for a strange and alien looking mix.
I felt my hair stand on end, as if an icy cold blast ran throughout my whole body. I let out a breath as it turned its head to look at me.
It had a yellow beak and bright yellow eyes. The creature let out a puff of steam as it focused on me. I could feel its gaze burn into me, and for a moment I was frightened.
But something inside of me stirred. Some deep part of me wanted to move closer to the creature. It turned around with difficulty in the cramped space, and I saw that the cage was far too small to hold it comfortably for any length of time. I stepped a bit closer, raising my hands so as to show that I wasn’t going to hurt it. I felt our eyes lock as I approached, the two of us connecting in some strange way.
I was less than two meters away from the big cage, and now I had a good view and size reference for this beast. It had to be another four feet taller than me and it was bent over inside the small cage. I could see sinewy muscle, but I could also see bones sticking out of it, like it was malnourished. Its head was the strangest thing though, it looked like some kind of eagle, but it had a sharper, longer beak and two little pointed ears covered in feathers that tilted upwards at the sight of me, like the kind some owls had. Its eyes grew bigger, and I could swear its expression even changed, like it was happy to see me here.
I raised my arm as I stepped up to the cage, “Hey, hey, calm down...” I spoke softly, nearly a whisper.
It let out a strange cooing sound mixed with a rumble from its chest. The feathers rose up as it tilted its head at me. I could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on me at this moment, but I didn’t care. I stepped an inch further and stopped dead as the creature bowed its head lower, up against the cage, in an act of trust. I put my hand on its beak and gently stroked it. It was smooth and cool, but the closer to the head the warmer it got.
“Hey there, shh, it’s alright...”
Something about this creature was familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It felt... it felt somehow old and like there was some kind of connection between me and this animal.
“Frank?” Amaline called my name quietly, her werewolf eyes wide with surprise and amazement. She had moved closer whilst I was stroking the creature, but I hadn’t heard her.
I meekly shook my head and shrugged, that strange familiarity lingering in the back of my mind.
“I see you are getting along nicely with our new guest.” An eerily smooth voice from across the hall spoke up, sending more shivers down my spine.
The creature suddenly roared and flailed about violently, shaking me from my stupor as I fell back. Amaline backpedalled away and I quickly backed off before moving to stand up. Felix appeared next to me and helped me to my feet as we faced the people on the wooden platform.
The voice continued, “He is a feisty one, but I’m hopeful we can tame him eventually.”
Of all the men standing there, two stood out the most. One was a tall man with powerful looking arms and stomach, built like a pro-bodybuilder. He wore a white wife-beater with dark handprints on them as if he had recently been working on a car. His face was permanently formed into a scowl as if he was angry at everything, and he had a thick but chin-short black beard running from one side to the other. His hair was cut military short as well, and he had a large blob nose and ugly, orcish features. Over his back sat a heavy machine gun with a box of ammo, though I couldn’t tell what it was from here.
The other, however, looked a lot more calm and respectable and had a much lighter build. His blond hair was slicked back and he wore round spectacles that were taped at one side, as if damaged. He wore a dusty black suit and black tie, with a white shirt underneath giving him an air of importance. His face had a light stubble and looked peevish, almost like a librarian but much friendlier. It was his grin that gave it away though; it was the trademark grin of a bad man who knew exactly what he was doing. There was no warmth in it at all. I noticed a pistol on his hip, an M1911.
“Mr. Seymour, is that your name?” Asked the blond haired one in a smooth, calm sounding voice. He was American I think, because I heard a Southern lilt to his voice.
I nodded, “Yes, Frank Seymour.”
He smiled and bowed his head, then gestured for us to come towards him. I hesitated and glanced at Felix and Amaline.
The blond haired one chuckled, “I won’t bite, and neither will my friends here.”
I took the first step forward, stepping away from the thrashing chaos of the strange bird creature, who I could feel was watching me. I had to stop myself from looking back at it, poor thing.
We stepped up the wooden steps as the blond haired one continued, turning his back and walking towards the table in the centre of the “stage”. I saw Clawhammer look to the blond haired one as he gestured for him to leave. Clawhammer gave a military-like bow before turning and marching down the steps past us without giving us a second glance.
“So, my name is Doctor Jekyll and this here,” He gestured to the large, orcish looking maniac who eyed me and Felix suspiciously, “Is Mr. Hyde. We are the leaders of this small city and are among those responsible for keeping the residents safe.”
“So you better show the Doctor some respect.” Hyde spoke up in a gruff, angry voice.
I tried not to show that I was nervous, but my throat tightened and I had to gulp, which seemed to amuse Hyde some, “Of course.”
Amaline nudged me with her elbow, giving me a fright. I glanced up at her and saw that she looked annoyed at me for some reason.
“No, we shall not.” She said with a lip curled up in disgust, “You attack me and Frank, you hurt Harriet.”
Jekyll sorted his glasses with one hand and studied Amaline inquisitively before speaking, “If you are referring to the squad of our soldiers who went missing around the radio tower, they were not under our orders. We considered them a...” He paused as if searching for a word, “A rogue element. As for Harriet, well, unfortunately that is a much more complicated issue.”
Felix stepped forward and gently placed his hand on the table, sensing that this could get out of hand despite how calm Jekyll was being, “Doctor Jekyll, we understand the complications of this feud between your town and Harriet, but it is not why we are here.”
He nodded knowingly, “Yes, it is for Charley and this strange artefact, isn’t it?”
I sighed, “Yeah, so much for it being a secret.”
He laughed, “Son, this is Utopia; it’s renowned for its secrets. But if you’re looking for Charley, he isn’t here either.”
“Aw shit you... wait, what do you mean ‘either’?” I said, shaking my head in confusion.
“One of our sources reported that you three were visiting the werewolf town of Lupescu. I understand you went there looking for Charley and it was obvious you’d come here when the wolves told you they didn’t have him.”
I put my hands on my hips and leant back on one foot, “You already know? You’ve got sources in the werewolf town?”
He bowed his head again, “Yes, we have many. That’s besides the point though, we don’t have Charley or that werewolf artefact everyone is looking for, or I’d have told you.”
Werewolf artefact? I held up my hand, “Whoa, wait, what werewolf artefact? I thought it was this weird Kuh’hatru thingy?”
“Yes that was the first thing Hyde and I thought as well, but it has come to our attention that the artefact may be even older.”
I stammered, “Older? How old are we talking here?”
He looked from side to side as if adding numbers up in his head, “Hmm... perhaps around... three to four thousand years old?”
We all gaped in awe at the same time. Three thousand years old? What the hell sort of artefact was this thing?
Jekyll chuckled, “Yes, there are artefacts that old. As for what it is, I think it’s got something to do with some kind of technology, perhaps of a militaristic nature? Could be a key to an ancient bunker or a weapons cache.”
“And you’re just... telling us this?” I asked incredulously.
He shrugged, “Of course, why? You think I’d have let you come all this way just to kill you or gloat over how I have Charley and the artefact?”
We all glanced at one another before turning to him and nodding.
He let out a quick laugh, “Oh, you watch too many spy films son. No, I don’t have him and I don’t have the artefact. If I had either, I’d hold both to ransom for a lot of cash, I know the Guild has a lot to go around.”
That last sentence frightened me, “Uh...”
“And no, I won’t have you three locked up. I wanted to have a look at the psychic gang who’d been causing a few ripples in the local river. I have to say through, I’m kind of impressed. Anyway...” he turned around and walked towards a table with a tray and five mugs on it, “I made some mint tea for us.”
He brought it over and set it down on his end of the table. I thought he was expecting us to walk all the way over and get it, but then the tray just suddenly started sliding down the table to the centre on its own. Hyde took a mug and cupped his hands around it to warm them up.
“How’d you do that?” I asked.
Jekyll held up his hand as small waves of energy started emanating out of it, “I’m a psychic like you, Frank. Please help yourselves to the tea, it’s freshly brewed.”
We all just stared at the three mugs and Jekyll picked one up and took a sip.
“Yeah, no, I don’t think so.”
“Oh my god!” Hyde boomed angrily, setting his mug down. He picked up each one and took a swig before putting them back on the table, “Satisfied?” He asked, giving us an annoyed sideways look before shaking his head and going back to his own.
I shrugged and picked mine up, taking an exploratory sip. From the moment my lips touched the drink I knew there was something strange about it. The mint was there for sure and it tasted very nice, but it had an intense, sweet and spicy flavour to it like nothing I had ever had before. As I swallowed it left a warm sensation down my throat and I could feel the effects of whatever it was warming me up from within.
I put it down and coughed, blinking rapidly as I felt the sensation spreading through my insides.
“What the hell was that..?”I choked out.
The Doctor smiled at me and shrugged, “A local recipe for mint tea. It’s very popular further north and keeps you nice and warm. A local herb provides the warm sensation you’re feeling, it essentially acts as an energy source for your body to quickly convert into heat energy. Apparently the local Utopians loved drinking the stuff in the Northern Hemisphere about as much as we love our coffee.”
I took another swig. Sure enough the effect was there, but it wasn’t as pronounced as the first time. I could still feel it warming me up, which I was certainly thankful for. Felix and Amaline took curious sips and did the same as I did, but on the second swig they kept it down.
“Thanks.” I said to him.
“So, first of all I’d to say that I wish we were able to work together like you did with the wolves, but with your relations with Harriet I’m afraid that won’t be possible, so I cannot help you in the search for Charley there. However...” He held up a finger as I was about to speak, “From what our information sources can gather, Charley appears to have gone missing along with the artefact at the same time, and I think these demonic forces are behind it. We think they operate somewhere around these parts and have been exploring worlds looking for an artefact matching the description of this one.”
“So where do we begin looking?” Felix asked.
Jekyll shrugged, “Around these mountains would be the best bet. But, demons do not act like this without an intelligence behind them. They are normally content to sit underground in their homes and fight one another, inside old abandoned buildings or otherwise stay well away from humans. Something or someone is commanding them.”
“Someone?” I asked before taking another delicious sip.
“Uh-huh. You see, psychics can actually order certain creatures around. Unlike Felix here who is a spirit and relies on an attachment, these creatures are physical in nature but weak-willed and easily manipulated. A powerful enough force can command them, and they were made to be commanded. Demon lords are the usual bet but there are barely any around here who’d be a real problem. More than likely we’re dealing with dark forces, possibly Satanists or bad Pagans.”
“Satanists? Oh god...” I groaned.
“Yeah, basically they’re exactly what you’re thinking of, times ten. If it’s Pagans then they’re a little easier to understand motivationally, but their powers are a hell of a lot older and they probably use dark pagan magic, which is very destructive.”
“Okay, so we find these Satanists or pagans and then what?”
He shrugged, “You kill them.”
I paused, waiting for him to continue or laugh, but he didn’t. It was such an abrupt and sincere end to a sentence I wasn’t sure what to say.
“That’s what you’ve got to do son. These people aren’t nice, they want power and control and to rule over everyone.”
I smiled a little, but was still confused, “Isn’t that what you want?”
He and Hyde let out a laugh together, “Oh yes, yes of course. But our reasons for constructing our empire the way we have is motivated by a want to do good.”
“And stealing from Harriet and attacking trade convoys going south is your way of doing good, yes?” Felix asked, leaning against the table.
Jekyll actually looked annoyed for a split second, but quickly recovered back to his trademark neutral look, “Well, sometimes one has to put their foot down. Harriet is ruled by a sheriff and the settlers there, which means it won’t last much longer out here. One day, it’ll be a part of our little nation and the airships will have to come to us to drop off and collect cargo. Believe me, Hyde and I have seen some of the worst Utopia has to offer. It’s in Harriet’s best interests to become a part of us for their own safety.”
He and Hyde both looked... genuinely saddened. I could sense it from him to, he wasn’t lying. He quickly collected himself as did Hyde and continued, “So, yes. Demons are your answer for sure. Now off you go, quickly now. You must find these...”
Suddenly the door burst open and two men sprinted into the room shouting and brandishing AK rifles.
“Sir! We’ve got fucking demons outside!”
“Language Corporal...” Jekyll waggled his finger at the subordinate, who quickly apologised.
He turned to us, “Right, looks like these demons are a step ahead of you. You should all get back to your car and quickly. I’ll radio Clawhammer and get him to drive you back to...”
An explosion shook the building. Jekyll braced himself against the table whilst Hyde stumbled back. I wasn’t so lucky and lost my balance, falling hard onto my backside against the hard wooden floor.
Amaline and Felix quickly hauled me to my feet as I moaned and groaned, feeling a sharp pain shoot up my thighs and rump.
“OUT NOW!” Jekyll screamed at us as the two men pointed their rifles at us. I just stared bewilderedly at them as Felix and Amaline hauled me down the steps and towards the hallway door. I took a look at the creature, the Gryphon I guess, who stopped thrashing around to stare back at me.
That image from before flashed through my mind, of these strangely dressed people flying over a great desert, but before I could do anything about it I was in the hallway and the doors were shut and locked behind us.
Felix and Amaline let go, and we were left in the hall with flickering lights and the sound of gunfire and explosions around us.
“What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?” I asked quietly, feeling that same fear I felt back at the werewolf town during the attack.
Would we actually make it out of this one too? I won’t lie, I had my doubts.
Amaline took my hand and gave it a squeeze with her rough, padded fingers.
I think she did, too.