Coil hadn’t often spoken of Boogie Men, in fact he’d barely brought them up because they were rare… And just as dangerous. They weren’t like most inhuman beings; Other than demons and Constructs Inhumans were humans or had been. But the boogie men were something else, something dark not made of flesh and blood. There was a reason they were also sometimes called the living fears…
Had Coil not decided to cut me off, I would have called in the cavalry immediately, letting a small army of mercenaries do the heavy lifting. Failing that I would have burned the whole forest to the ground. Instead it was up to the five of us, six if you counted Simon, whom I wasn’t even sure could help.
This was bad.
In that moment, I understood the power of the Abendroth, they might not have had the bottomless resources of Coil, the raw firepower of the Circle of the Red Oath or the sheer number of bodies, the Faes or the Shifters could throw at you. But what they had was far more valuable; an elixir capable of healing anything short of death that only they could produce, to be sold at any price and a city filled with supernatural beings intent on protecting them to earn their favors.
“I believe the fastest way would be to split.” Simon said. “Two teams of three members should be good to cover the grounds.”
“That doesn’t sound like a good idea.” I said. “I mean it’s like first law of horror movies.”
“We’re not in a fucking movie.” Natalie answered. “I’m taking Liam and Lance with me.”
“Is it wise to have both our heavy hitters on the same team?” Kaleb asked.
“I don’t fucking care.” QB said.
“It will do.” Simon interrupted before an argument could truly break out. He looked with the same cold detachment as usual toward me and Kaleb as if analyzing us for a moment. “There are supplies downstairs for us to use.”
We walked down and into a side room, a medium sized den where a table not far from the entrance had been cleared to host several sets of gear. It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, going after a bogeyman was the kind of job I’d assumed would warrant heavy weaponry, but apparently not.
“Elixir.” Simon said, handing three opaque hard plastic vials to each of us. “Flare guns, flashlight, tactical tomahawk, first aid kits, food and water canteen.” He then added, handing out backpacks. “The first thing we need to do is find the creature and it’s nesting place. Fears are beings of pattern, we suspect this one has a nest.”
“So we just wander blindly into the woods and hope to stumble upon a murderous fucking creature?” The Darksider’s leader said.
“Or you go home and risk becoming forsworn for refusing to uphold your end of a bargain. You promised anything in exchange for elixir. Should you do this, you’ll also leave with a dozen vials provided they are not used. We believe a scion, a powerful talent, a skinner, an abomination and a dhampir are a strong enough group to handle the task, even more so when assisted by me.” Even though it was an obvious threat, his words carried no aggressivity, remaining at a perpetual emotionless tone.
Natalie seemed to be stunned, he’d looked at her when he had called her a scion, Coil hadn’t brought up that type of inhumans when he’d been educating me. In fact he seemed to be under the impression she was a pyrokinetic talent. Which meant I had something that could potentially satisfy Coil.
“Fuck, we’ll do it.” QB snarled.
“Well then. We better get started. Use the flares to signal if you find anything. We will head northeast, you may handle the western portion of the woods.” He didn’t wait for anyone to agree with him, he walked off on us. Kaleb and I reluctantly followed him. Speaking of whom; he still wasn’t looking at me.
He started heading toward the direction I supposed was the right one. I took out my knife in one hand and held the flashlight in the other. I hadn’t completely healed from last night and squeezing my hand around something woke up a dull persistent ache. The good news was that the fingers of my hands hadn’t broken from the strain they’d endured the previous night or if they had, they’d healed well enough.
We walked in silence for probably twenty minutes, looking everywhere around, moving the flashlights to illuminate as much as we could.
Even within the Abendroth’ fenced in enclave, the forest was not the kind of place one would want to spend much time. It was dark and wet, pools of liquid were placed intermittently around, the foliage was thick so that you wouldn’t see the sky. Roots and fallen trunks were everywhere, making the idea of running an impossibility. There was something off about the woods, it felt like it didn’t belong in California, like we’d been displaced somewhere else.
We kept on walking until we reached the edge of the fence, we followed it for a while until we found a section that had been torn out.
“It seems we’ll have to extend our search area.” Simon noted before stepped over the wrecked fence.
I wasn’t thrilled, we didn’t know what the hell we were really looking for and according to Simon himself a monster roamed these woods…
“Think the others are having better luck?” I asked in a hushed voice.
Nobody answered. We kept walking, for a few more minutes, it had been maybe an hour, before Kaleb said something.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what?” I asked.
“That you weren’t human.” He answered.
“How was I supposed to bring it up? Oh by the way Kaleb, my father was a vampire. And… I thought we were having a good time… I didn’t want to risk losing it… People seems like they’d rather catch the plague rather than befriend someone like me...” I was quite sure if I meant dhampirs or transgender people, probably both. “And I’ve spent nearly sixteen years trying to pretend this whole world didn’t exist, ever since I’d been a child I could just feel how people weren’t human, but I ignored it, it was hard enough just being plain old human me..”
“That’s just dumb.”
“What?” It was more a flat answer than a real question.
“Of course it was hard, you shouldn’t pretend to be something you’re not. You shouldn’t have to pretend you’re human just like you don’t pretend to be a boy when you’re really not.” That part warmed my heart a little. It was one fear I’d always had, that as soon as someone would be angry at me, they’d invalidate my gender… Kaleb wasn’t steeping so low.
“Look… I’m sorry… I should have told you… Especially since I knew from the moment I saw you that you are what you are. I get why you hate me now.” The words felt bitter in my mouth.
“I’ll be honest, I’m angry, I feel like I’ve been used and cheated, but I don’t hate you. In fact I kind of like you.”
I blushed. “Too bad your friends hate me.” I muttered loudly enough for him to hear.
“Oh, they’re a hard bunch to get along, if they really disliked you, you’d know. Natalie is like that to everyone but Liam. If she hated you, you’d have a crushed nose already. Lance is always cool and detached to everyone and Liam is well, himself.”
“Can I ask how you met them?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long story… Remember the story I told you about, me running away?” He asked, I nodded. “Well, after that I just sort of couch surfed at a few friends for about three months but eventually everyone wanted me gone so I ended up homeless, at one of the youth shelter I met this girl, she noticed the scars and well, she was like I am now. She taught me how… Teaching isn’t the right term… It’s not like I picked up a book and read up… I don’t know how to really describe it, but you do and see these things until your mind just snap and at that moment, everything you think impossible no longer is. It took me a while to put myself back together and it was in that state Natalie found me, she already had Liam, he was like four and a half at the time.”
“Wait, how old is Liam?”
“About six and a half years old.” He answered. “Natalie’s been taking care of him since he was a baby, not sure about the whole story though.”
I shuddered to think he was that young, Liam if he bothered to stand up would easily equal me in height and I wasn’t tiny either… What would he look like as an adult?
“How old is she?”
“She’ll be twenty in July.”
She definitely looked younger and she acted like it.
“Wait.” Simon pipped in, the first time we had heard of him since we’d began this conversation. “I think I found something.”