Note: Walk is intended for mature audiences only
Returning to the Creed House, Val pulled up the photos Troy had taken in the hunters’ room at the Sherwood Motel. Zooming in, she could read the details from the responding officer to the medical examiner. “Looks like we got pretty much everything they have on these murders.”
Troy loved the picture quality from his Iphone. He knew that it wasn’t very Hunter-In-Darkness, to embrace the ease that technology offered. He blamed it on his Irraka half. The sway of the New Moon in his blood drew him to look at things differently than the majority of his Tribe. “And they don’t even know we’re on to them.” Technology may not be embracing the primal, but it certainly was cunning.
The pair of werewolves cycled through the photos and notes on the four murders that the hunters had gathered. The first scene had been discovered four days ago in Coudersport at Steve’s Cars, a used car dealership. Both they eponymous owner and his dog had been mauled thoroughly. The second murder happened on Loucks Mills Road, just off of State Games Land 64. Two deer hunters returning to their Bronco had been attacked by the same kind of beast. The police had missed a detail, but one of the hunters had noticed that the Bronco didn’t match the victim’s registration paperwork. They searched the vehicle and found a Steve’s Cars business card. One of the hunters had scribbled on the paperwork, ‘It can drive?’ The next report had no shots of a body. The scene consisted of a severed hand in the parking lot of the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. Police had fingerprinted the hand and traced it back to a John Doe that was arrested in Inez for public nudity and intoxication. The hand was not severed cleanly. The medical examiner said that it looked like it had been torn off. The hunters again added some information. They had found the Bronco from Loucks Mills Road and had kept the police a step behind by scraping off the VIN number and torching the vehicle. Local police recorded another crime at the same site. A family had reported their RV stolen. The final report was dated just a day ago on the South Branch of Pine Creek, just outside of Galeton. Again, the scene had no body, just a wide bloodstain on asphalt. Police had reported that the Hounds of Hell biker gang may be responsible, but there was no physical evidence. Locals had noted the biker gang at the location, but questioning of the gang had led nowhere. The hunters had circled a corner of one of the crime scene photos, revealing the presence of a RV.
“So, we’ve got two, maybe three problems here.” Troy held up his thumb, “Something mean is coming our way.”
“A something that tears apart its victims and steals their vehicles. Something that smells of fear.” Val added.
Troy raised his pointer finger, “There are two Winchesters in town hunting this thing.”
“Winchesters?” Then Val recognized the reference, “I hope one’s as sexy as Dean. I like Dean. I wouldn’t kick him out of bed.”
“And three,” Troy raised his middle finger, " Chris Talbot, who apparently used to be a hunter. He might be a threat."
“One problem at a time.” Val touched Troy’s pointer finger. “These hunters have done some solid leg work on this thing. There’s a good chance that they’ll actually find it.” She then touched Troy’s thumb. “Maybe they can take it, maybe not. I’d rather we found it first, so they have no reason to hang around. Maybe start hunting for wolves. We’d likely have to kill them then.”
Troy looked sideways at Val, trying to assess whether his Rahu Storm Lord packmate was serious.
“These guys got themselves involved,” Val continued when Troy raised one eyebrow at her. “There’s always the chance that they win. We can hang back and they’ll do all the work.”
Troy nodded, “Alright. We’ll stake out the hunters.”
“Nope, there’s a fourth problem.” Val answered the question that was written on Troy’s face. “My shift starts soon. I’ve got to get to work.”
“Fine, I’ll watch them.” Troy actually felt better going that part alone.
“And while you’re doing that, I’ll see what I can dig up on those guys and Talbot.”
“I’ll drop you off then swing by the Motel.”
Val briefly wondered why she needed to be dropped off. Then she rolled her eyes, realizing that Troy didn’t have his own vehicle. “If these hunters are really good, they might get the drop on you.” She smiled, “My truck’s brand new, better take Jake’s.”
Troy almost challenged the thought that a human could get the drop on him, then realized that Val was actually joking with him. He smiled, all it took was a three pronged threat to their territory for her to actually get along with him.
It was a slow night at the hospital. Already finished her first round, Val sat at a computer and started digging. Everything she knew about them led nowhere. The license plate number that Troy had gotten was registered to the obviously bogus James Cricket. Likewise, the names of Jeter and Thompson had thousands of hits, none of which had anything to do with her targets. Val picked up her phone, wondering briefly how much the Iphone’s plan cost, and texted Troy.
Found 0 on hntrs, you?
Troy shielded the glare from his phone as he read the text. The hunters had gone from the Happy Hooker, to Harrison’s Cantina, and were now exiting Smythe’s Gun Shop. Before, they had only exited with a small bag or two. Now they were walking out of a gun shop with a long, heavy metal case. ‘Could be a fucking cannon in there,’ Troy thought as he watched them walk back to their van. Turning back to the shop, Troy saw Smythe lighting a cigarette. Under the light, it looked like the gunsmith was looking directly at him. He ducked down, pretended to retrieve something from the glove compartment. When Troy looked back to the shop, Smythe had already gone back inside. Maybe the man hadn’t seen him, or at least didn’t equate it to anything unusual. He picked up his phone.
they’re gearing up, talbot?
Val had already found both the bar and it’s owner on Facebook and little more. She had found out that Talbot’s had only been open for four years, and had quickly become the favorite of the over 21 populace of the small town of Wellsboro. About Chris, she found that he worked at Talbot’s and had been born in Philadelphia. Which really wasn’t finding out anything since she met him as he was bar tending in a place was filled with Philadelphia sports stuff. Val kept searching, changing Google parameters a little bit at a time. She found a reference to a Christopher Talbot in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Ten years ago he was listed in the graduating class of some place called St. Charles Borromeo. She typed the school into the search engine. St. Charles Borromeo was a Catholic Seminary.
Dud was priest
Troy glanced Val’s text. Talbot was a priest? Shit, did the Catholic Church create hunters or something? He looked up and saw the two hunters taking their gear into the state park. He was about to type a response, but decided to call Val. “Looks like they’re setting up in the park. I’m going to see what they’re up to.”
“Careful, they could be luring you into a trap.”
“With humans, I’m okay in the woods. It’s only the deer that I need to worry about shooting me.”
Val laughed as she hung up. The ultimate predator getting shot by deer. It was still funny. She went to the seminary’s web site and searched for anything on Talbot. She found a paper he had written there, called “Interactions with Purgatory.” In it, Talbot had suggested that Purgatory was sort of an Underworld or Otherworld that souls inhabited. He also suggested that there were ways of contacting that world, that bridges existed where one world could affect our world. If he had changed dead souls to spirits, Val thought that he could be describing the Shadow. On top of that, the paper was not just a regurgitation of facts found from older works. It was written with passion, as if the writer not only believed in the subject, but had actually experienced it and knew it to be true.
A little more digging revealed that he had been assigned to the parish of St. Dominic’s, but had only been there for a single year. She found out the names of some local papers and searched their archives for the year Talbot had been at the church. Eventually she found an article that connected Father Talbot with the hospitalization of a little girl. The article concluded saying that Talbot’s actions were under investigation by both civil courts and the clergy. A few months later another article stated that while the family had dropped the charges, the Church had dismissed him from the clergy.
Talbot not priest now
Troy would have responded, but he had left his phone in Jake’s truck and had taken on his Urshal form, following his targets as a wolf. He followed them up to the falls where he and his packmates had fought Eddie Creed and his dead pack, They Who Walk In Pain. How had they picked this spot? He perked his ears forward to listen as they worked. Troy was a safe distance off and they were talking softly. He was only able to pick up a fraction of their conversation.
“…definitely uses this area…”
“…found marking its territory…”
“…should get its attention…”
“…get it, this time…”
The two finished their work and left as quietly as humans could. Troy cautiously moved to see what the two had done. He first caught scent of some berries and herbs. It was a sweet, but pungent combination. As he approached, his keen sight caught a glimmer of moonlight on a tripwire. He stepped lightly over the wire, following its filament line up to a camera. He glanced around and saw three other cameras set up in a similar manner. Any animal approaching the bundle would set off a wire and be caught on film. An odd trap if these two hunters were looking to kill it. Maybe they had set up a bunch of these to determine where the creature really was. Troy carefully walked over to the bundle of herbs and berries, avoiding all the tripwires, and took a deep breath. He took a second breath, locking in all the scents he could.
Back at the truck, Troy transformed back to his human form. As his phone gleamed back to life, it notified him that he had 20 texts and 15 voice mails. Scrolling through the messages, he realized that they all had been from Val. He dialed her number. “Slow night?”
“I’ve been bored to fucking death here. I was starting to worry.”
“I’m touched, you were worried for me?”
“No, I was worried that I’d have to run out to the park to get Jake’s truck back. What’d you find out?” Troy filled Val in on everything that he had seen and smelled. Cameras? Tripwires? “Maybe these guys are just weird photographers?”
“I doubt it. I think they might have bought a heavy caliber weapon at Smythe’s. Can you search the herbs and see what comes up?”
Val typed in the ingredients that Troy had smelled at the hunters’ trap. At first, the search engine returned thousands of recipes, then she added the word bait to the query.
Troy heard laughing on the other side of the phone. “What? What is it?”
Val was glad that she was the only nurse on this floor. They’d all look at her like she was mad. “Bigfoot. These guys think it’s Bigfoot.”
After both returned to the Creed House, the lights began to flicker. During one of the gaps of illumination, Drowns-In-Lace appeared before Val and Troy. “It is near.” The Fear spirit did not need to explain what ‘it’ was. The creature had finally entered their territory.
Almost at the door, Val demanded, “Which direction. How far.” The spirit, even after all its years here, could not give an accurate account. It still did not fathom this world’s sense of distance. Drowns-In-Lace pointed in the direction it felt the familiar tremors of fear and spoke in metaphors of distance.
On the front porch, Troy smiled, “Jake’s truck?”
Val nodded with a slight smile on her lips. “Fuck yeah.”
While she drove, Troy had partially changed his face. He leaned out the window and breathed as a wolf breathed. Thousands upon thousands of scents came to him as they sped along. “Up ahead, I smell blood and gun powder and gasoline.”
The next stretch of road was flickered between blue and darkness as police lights whirled on a crashed police car. Val breathed relieved as she noticed that it was a state trooper’s car rather than the local police.
Troy jumped out the truck as it slowed and took in the scene. “Head on collision.” The air bag was deployed in the cruiser. A mangled motorcycle was crushed into the hood.
Val looked into the vehicle. Glass and blood were everywhere. “Looks like it crashed through the windshield and killed the trooper.” Looking around, she saw a blood trail leading off into the dark woods. “Left that-a-way.”
Troy sniffed inside the cruiser. “Guy had the presence of mind to get off a few shots.” He leaned in and took a deep breath, locking in the very essence of the trooper’s blood. He then poked his head around the cruiser’s cabin. “He wounded it. I’ve got its blood scent.” He transformed into his dire wolf form and ran into the darkness. Val followed suit.
Troy was locked on the scent. He could practically see it as a red string strongly illuminated amidst the green of the normal scents of the woodlands. Then, another scent crept into his nostrils. It was a odd smell, but one that Troy knew intimately. The smell of iron and sweat and heat. The Box. He slowed, shaking his muzzle. “This can’t be here,” he said hesitantly.
Val only noticed Troy’s pausing, when she passed by him. She was looking at his confused face when the scent came to her. The smell of cigarettes. The cheap, unfiltered kind that her father favored to put out on her flesh. Val rolled her shoulders, willing the phantom itches on her back away. She would not succumb to this fear. She. Would. Not. Turning to Troy, she growled, “Get yourself together.” A Storm Lord does not run from fear. She hunts it down and tears it apart. Val ran towards the scent.
The only thing that Val could see of the thing were it’s teeth. Shining in the reflected moonlight, they looked sharp as razors. In each perfect tooth was a refection of her fears. There was no room for talking. It had invaded their territory. It had killed here. Worse, it had attacked her with her own memories. If she stopped, the creature’s power might worm away her strength. Val wasted no time in attacking. Jumping from her dire wolf form, Val transformed into the deadly war form of Gauru. She tackled the creature bearing it to the ground.
Knowing that this creature had the resilience to take several gunshots, Troy decided to hold off on transforming into his war form. The form was powerful, for sure, but that power came with a limitation. It lasted for a limited time. He knew that the fight might go on longer than Val or he could hold on to Gauru form. Shifting in sequence would give them a better chance for victory. As Val drove the creature to the ground, Troy bit deep into its hamstring.
“More doggies,” it spoke while laughing through its own pain. “Doggies should know they can’t kill god.” He flicked Troy off of his leg. Then the creature threw Val against a thick tree trunk. “Death has no meaning to me.”
Even through the Rage, Val felt something break inside of her. Fear had made her strike out quickly, without thinking. From her first trials as a Storm Lord, she had been taught to be the master of her fear, to make it submit to her will. This creature was no different. She called upon the Gift of Death Grip. Spiritual essence rushed into her arms. She locked up the creature from behind. Somewhere, in her mind, she wanted to tell the creature that it wasn’t a god and she wouldn’t be intimidated by its powers. “Kill you,” was all she was able to growl.
In response, the creature’s arms twisted at an impossible angle and its fingers tripled in length. It gripped Val by the neck, it’s fingertips becoming the hot embers of a lit cigarette. They began to burn their way through Val’s throat. She howled in pain.
“No,” Troy growled and locked his jaws around the creature’s left arm and pulled with all his might. A tearing sound accompanied the arm as it was pulled away from Val. The fingers madly twitching in the air.
Val renewed her grip on the creature. She had to move fast and push through her pain. Already she could feel the strength of the Gauru form beginning to ebb. Though the left arm looked destroyed, the right arm began to shift into the form of a serpent and began coiling around her throat. As her grip began to crush its bones, the creature began to choke the life out of her.
The blood Troy had bit from the creature’s arm was tainted. It was threatening to cripple him with fear. Already he could feel the noon heat upon the metal walls of the Box. He could feel the oppressive weight it laid upon his body. Soon he would be unable to move. Looking over to the battle, he could see blood seeping into Val’s eyes. If he couldn’t lock away the terror he was feeling, she might die. Hunters in Darkness knew fear. They prowled the deepest, darkest places of both the Earth and its Shadow. They knew what lurked there and had bested them. Troy growled his defiance of the fear, shifting into his war form. He felt the Rage overtake his fear washing it away in his lust for blood. He locked his powerful hands together and hatcheted his enemy’s face.
The creature cried in pain. Flecks of mirrored teeth shimmered in the moonlight as they flew from its mouth. It’s snake arm whipped from Val’s throat and struck Troy with its envenomed fanged fingers. Freed from the creature’s grip, Val opened her jaws wide, taking in a deep gulp of air, then brought them down on the creature’s throat. The creature couldn’t even release a death scream. It merely gurgled foamy blood as Val tore away flesh, sinew and bone.
Releasing his Gauru form, Troy called out. “The blood, it’s poison!”
Blood seared down Val’s throat. It’s powerful toxin felt like it was lighting up every neuron in her mind. “Oh, fuck,” was all she managed to say through her clamped mouth before she collapsed on the ground. The creature’s limp body landing on top of her.