The mission to West Virginia was supposed to be easy. In hindsight they should have known that it was going to be hell.
It felt like a longer drive out to West Virginia then it should have been. Several points during the trip Alex lost all cell reception. This took away her use of the internet and her ability to continue her research. It also might be why the town had gone silent. Something as simple as a tower went down.
What she was able to gather about the town was that is a coal mining town. It was less than a mile from it’s current mine and was built on an older one. Population around 500 and it’s only real income is based on the coal mine. This town seemed to be a relic of the past, but its safety was still a priority.
These details made both Alex and Nick nervous. Not in any way they could rationalize, just a feeling in their gut. Neither though made any attempt to talk about it to the other. She did not want to look weak in front of the man who was like an older brother to her. He did not want to scare her with just a feeling. If they had, things might have turned out better.
In the mountains, the road got narrow at times. If there had been traffic it might have led to an accident. Once they got within fifty miles, there had been no cars on the road. What they did not catch was the missing wildlife. No birds, or even squirrels. They were distracted by the view of the sun sitting as they drove on top of a mountain.
It was beautiful. Nick had even pondered what was more amazing, the sun sitting on the open ocean or on top of a mountain. Both had the added advantage of being able to see more stars than most even know exists. The drive as a whole allowed Nick to unwind from some of the more recent cases they had done.
Their first case together was with Mr. Widemouth. A fairy that enjoyed killing little children. At the time of the encounter Nick did not know what a fae was and did not know how to counter it. He only survived by luck and Alex’s call that broke the rules of the game that the monster lived by. It was the most intense game of hide and seek he had ever played.
Their next case was about a malicious weapon called Blue Steel. It was a pistol that had been cursed by the traumatizing death of its first owner. It would find a new owner causing them to kill seven people, before having them turn the gun on themselves. It always chose people who were not violent, to begin with, just like it’s the first owner.
Following that was mundane by the rest of their cases standards. It was a vampire that had decided to break the rules and feed on humans unwillingly. The case ended with the blood sucker turned to dust and a fellow Wardens car destroyed. It almost ended with Alex’s death.
Nick visiting her to comfort her led to them encountering Mr. Widemouth again. They played a game called Questions. Taking turns each would ask a questions, if you lied or did not answer you would be shocked. Answer 3 wrong you would lose and die. They won and Alex killed the fae with her cast iron skillet.
Nick lost his left arm to an evil mage. The spell caster had been using his magic to turn regular people into puppets. With the help of a time mage they somewhat stopped him. A case of a human abusing a magic item and then a werewolf followed. From each of them they learned something, but nothing remarkable about them.
Some of these cases though had an element of the impossible. Mr. Widemouth had been banished and returned far too quick. Even he admitted it. During the questions game they were able to find out this small detail. Also about someone called the Redman. Who as another part of the impossible was able to bind a fae to their will.
With the rogue mage he had several magic items that should not exist yet. One of them being a spell book written by his partner. Who at the time knew no magic. She of course now was studying from the book, creating an odd kind of paradox. If she was learning from it now, why would she write it. Then the question becomes who wrote it originally.
The Blue Steel case was impossible as the weapon had been destroyed before. It was explained that it is not hard to believe a weapon to recreate itself. Yet the former Warden who had destroyed it still had the dust it turned into. Someone, possibly the Redman, was able to force it back into existence.
Alex had built a case file about the Redman. Using all her current resources to figure out who he is and what he can do. Sadly it was rather thin at the moment. The only real clue they had is something that Jack had said in passing. “He is a master of Chaos magic.”
All magic is a little bit of Law magic and Chaos magic. Some leans more one way then the other. Luck being mostly Chaos magic and Time being a heavily leaning Law magic. Jack has been described as the incarnate of Law magic and is immeasurably powerful with it. Could this man be his equal?
All this was beyond Nick. It was not that he was dumb, it was just not his field of expertise. He prefered what was right in front of you and you could fight. At first only knowing how to shoot things he was at a disadvantage. After meeting the Mercenary Merchant, known as Tyler Bishop things changed. Nick was able to push himself even further with his unintended help.
He was given the Rudis. A simple wooden sword that looks like a Roman Gladius. Etched on it was the victories of the ancient Atlantean gladiator who had earned it. It also contained his spirit. That spirit had been teaching Nick how to fight the monsters and that is how he had been able to survive so much.
Alex is a master researcher. Now having her Masters in Engineering, she was able to turn her time and energy to being a full time Warden. For a long time she felt like being a bookworm was all she was good at. Yet with her recent study into magic she has been able to make herself more useful in a fight. Yet between the two of them, she was still the real detective.
They both needed this trip to unwind. This is probably why Jack had given them something that was suppose to be an easy case. Both of them should have known better. Right now though they got to enjoy the beautiful scenery. This encouraged Alex to answer a question that had been left unanswered for a long time.
“Nick,” she said almost whispered. She was still not sure she had the internal strength to talk about it. “You once asked about how I learned about the supernatural.” He gave a small nod of acknowledgement. “Do you want me to tell you?”
“If you want to tell me.” He was curious, but he had no need to know. Honestly, part of him knew she was not telling him for him to know. She wanted to share what had happened because it was still eating at her. It was the same way with his story, back in that desert.
“I was at a different university than I am now.” She had been a student at El Dritch University, thanks to the scholarship that Jack had given her. Knowing that made them both wonder how much Jack controled things behind the scenes. “My girlfriend and a few of my friends thought it would be fun to do a ritual on halloween. It was meant as a joke to scare ourselves.”
She remembered the laugh they had when they decided to do it. “We found a book that looked the part and went along with it.” In hindsight that book was far more creepy and that alone should have been a warning.
Nick wanted to ask why she decided doing a ritual for fun was a good idea. In his mind to do one of those who need to kill a chicken or goat, but in reality this ritual didn’t need that. “We gathered the items, which most of us had.” It had required simple things like a bit of gold and a few odd minerals. She did not tell him that so it left and odd image in his head.
“So on all hallows eve we did the ritual. At midnight we started doing the chant.” The smell of sulfur and something she could still not describe still haunted her at night. “I am guessing we all thought it was some kind of trick when the components burst into flames.” Her girlfriend Katrina had been a chemist and it would not have been beyond her to do something like that.
“When we finished he appeared.” She wanted to describe him, but she was at a loss for words. All that she could remember was blackness with fangs. “It said nothing as it killed us one by one.” She was holding back tears as she remembered this next part. “I wasn’t suppose to be last.”
“Katrina jumped in front of me. She pushed me back away from the monster as I stood there frozen with fear.” She did not add this part, but that was the last time she ever felt her girlfriend’s touch. “She died with the others.”
There was a long moment of silence. Nick did not know what to say or if she was going to go on. How did she survive? Who saved her? He wanted to know. Yet he more wanted to comfort her. If he still had both arms one would have been on her shoulder right now. As it stood he needed his one arm for driving.
“I am ok.” She was even able to faked a smile. “I just needed a moment.” Wiping her tears away she finished. “Not sure how he did it, but of all people to save me it was Jack.” Until now Nick had not heard of Jack ever going into the field. The three highest ranked Wardens almost never did. They did not handle cases but conspiracies.
“He invoked his name and the the demon fled. Taking the remains of everyone in the room.” The last Alex saw of Katrina was her sinking into the ritual circle. “We couldn’t even hold a funeral. Everyone that was there is considered missing.” She had to leave that school. Promptly receiving both an invite to the University of El Dritch and the Wardens right after. Nick knew the rest.
She was lost walking through it all in her head. Mostly she was lost thinking about her time with Katrina. Until just this moment she hadn’t allowed herself to really think about her. If it had even been a month ago she would have shut down. It goes without saying she was a much stronger person.
Everything about that woman was still in her mind. The way she laughed or got angry. The way she did a fake cat growl if you annoyed her. What stuck the most in her mind was how it felt to hug her. She was a strong person and full of love. When you hugged her you felt that about her.
She did not notice it, but Nick had pulled over and stopped the SUV. She only came back to the here and now when she felt his one arm wrap around her. He was not an emotional man, not even really empathetic. Yet he did care about her. She needed that hug and he knew it.
He held her tightly with his only arm. They had a strong kind of love between them. It was not one of a lover, but brother and sister. Both knew they would be there for each other. Right now, Nick was there for her and she welcomed it. It was not the same as her ex girlfriend’s, but it helped.
After a few moments of them just sitting there they continued the drive to that small town they were sent too. It was a mining town that had suddenly disappeared from the world. No one had heard from the residents for almost a week. No one on the council expected anything from the case. It was probably something stupidly simple. May not even been somethings the Wardens took care of. Yet they went anyway.
The first hints that they were close to their destination was the fog. At first it was simple wisps that went past them. It wasn’t long before it was thick enough that walking in it would have been faster. The only clear thing in front of them Nick could see was the hood of the SUV. Everything beyond that was a struggle to make out.
Both of the Wardens had at first this was a start of a horror movie. The only problem with the analogy is that it was much worse than the silver screen could show. The fog was thick. Enough so that they had a feeling in the back of their minds that they may crash into a solid wall of fog somehow. It would not have been beyond the strange they have dealt with before.
Just as suddenly as the fog became this thick, a sign appeared out of the fog. The name of the town written across it. “Welcome to Lily Meadow’s.” Something about that name was odd. This is West Virginia and a mining town. Neither things make you think of a field of flowers. Yet it could be named that way like Iceland and Greenland are. Intentionally misnamed to make it sound more inviting or less so in the case of Iceland.
Inside the town the fog lessened, yet not by much. Field of view grew to about 10 ft, instead of being measured in inches. They were now able to make out some of the small stores in the town, but no movement in them. In fact there was no movement anywhere. Not a dog, child or adult in sight. To make the whole scene more ominous cars were just stopped in the middle of the street.
The place felt like everyone just stepped out. Where did they go? Nothing took them as the town showed no signs of conflict or damage. No blood anywhere in sight or anything else that might give a hint of what happened. Down to their core both Wardens knew they should leave and report into Jack about this. They would have gone to the edge of the fog and done so with their phones.
It seemed like the town did not like that. The SUV came to a sudden stop as the engine shut off. Turning the key the engine did not even try to turn over. Instead it seemed more like the battery had just died. Nick did not want to get out of the vehicle to look. Every combat instinct he had screamed at him to stay inside. Yet if he stayed inside it would only prolong whatever was coming and they would not be able to fight.
The Rudis on his hip, he stepped out ready for something to attack him. In this town his footsteps was the only thing audible. There was even a moment where he worried he had gone deaf, only to be comforted by the sound of his own actions. Nothing about what was happening was right.
Alex was inside the SUV trying to get some form of signal. Her phone had been searching for a signal for the last hour, in this town was no different. Since they were no longer moving she was able to use a gift from Empirehacker. It was something of a little satellite dish that increase the ability to receive a signal.
She had tested it at a hotel they had stayed at and it worked like a charm. Instant 4G no matter where you were. It had worked on her Laptop, Tablet and phone. In this town, it might as well have been just a hunk of metal. All the signs were in this town, they were needed and this job was not going to be easy.
After popping the hood Nick found what was wrong with the engine. The everything under the hood had turned into a block of deep blue ice. Without a thought he reached out and touched it, only after doing it did he think of how dumb that was. Nothing happened to him, but he could have easily lost his one good arm.
What he did learn is that the ice gave off no cold. Checking with his Rudis, it also could not be cut. These clues confirmed the obvious, this was magic. Something did not want them to move freely. After checking two more vehicles it was confirmed they would be no help, they had the same ice.
Alex jumped as the silence was broken by Nick’s voice. They had both been silent as they worked, and no background noise was already upsetting. “We have two options.” He was talking just above a whisper, but in the silence it felt like a shout. “We walk to the edge of the fog and town. There we might be able to call for backup. Second we can look around and find out what is going on. Hope that we can handle whatever is thrown at us.”
“I think we should look around.” Nick said nothing, but his eyebrow shot up reflexively. This was not the answer he was expecting. “Up until recently we had Nichi keeping an eye on us. Jack was not able to use his vast magic to view into this. Combine this with all the other resources the Wardens have,” she let it trail off.
It was so obvious to Nick that he was upset he did not pick up on it. It should have been an easy job and as far as he knew the council honestly meant it to be so. Whatever was affecting the area was extremely powerful. Probably would not let them leave. He had fought a creature who could do that before and did not want to deal with that again. Even that creature’s name haunted him still, Mr. Widemouth.
“Not to mention,” Alex spoke up again. “If we want to save the people of this town, our mission may be time sensitive.” Something else Nick would not have picked up on. Saving others was not always his top priority. He was more of a survivalist with a sense of justice than a bleeding heart. That was her job.
Grabbing his old seabag they abandon the broken SUV and began the walk to the center of the town. As before their steps adding to the haunting feeling they were feeling. The mist around them never changing. Always obstructing their view and giving the air a slight cold feeling. The whole walk Nick kept his hand on his Rudis, waiting for something to confront them.
Thankfully even with the fog, finding their way to the center of town was easy to follow. The main roads formed a giant cross. Business lined the the main street with the rest being residential. All of them silent and dark.
The only thing that made the trip difficult was the anxiety they felt. They were walking through the streets unprotected. There was no hint of what was out there, and no way to prepare for it. They could only hope their weapons and skills would be enough to buy them time. Nick with Rudis ready to draw and Alex clutching her bag. In it was a wide variety of components for spells she could use.
For what felt like an eternity they walked down the street. Moving at a snail's pace, as they strained their ears listening for anything. The only thing to hear was the echo of their own movements. In this dead town.
Town center was a big open area. The roads formed a roundabout. This granted access to the city hall, the courthouse, library and the police station. All these buildings were silent as the rest of the town. It was as if everyone left and the fog moved in. Bringing the term ghost town to a new level.
Sudden movement put both of them on the defensive. It was not one thing moving but dozens of something. The only thing that could describe the somethings was shadows. They were too solid to be something only moving through the fog. They were solid silhouettes moving around the town center.
They were shadows of the towns people that were missing. They seemed to be going about their daily lives. Little children shadows at play and the parents watching them. Even a cop giving a ticket to someone. All this done silently and without breaking the ten feet of clearing around the Wardens. Any time one of these shadows crossed paths with the two, they would fade out of existence. They would come back after passing through the clearing.
Wherever the people of the town went it had something to do with the fog. They had become nothing but dark and silent images in the fog. Still they moved through the fog. To move backward would be to admit their fears. To leave would be to admit failure and that is something neither of them want to do.
“Which place should we check first?” Nick asked. His voice making both of them jump. Even it being a whisper was disturbingly loud when compared to the lack of noise of the town. It was when the silence broke that every fiber in Nick’s body screamed danger. Something was out there, and it had been waiting for the noise to hunt.
Alex did not have that kind of combat sense, but knew something was wrong when Nick suddenly tensed up. She readied her weapon in response. It was a memento from fighting a certain Fae creature that had tormented them. A cold iron skillet, an iron weapon bathed in the blood of a fae. It was created when she smashed Mr. Widemouth with a cast iron skillet.
Between the two of them you had a man holding a wooden sword and a woman holding a skillet as weapons. To normal people they would be a joke, but anyone with a sense of magic would not take them lightly. There is a general rule of the supernatural. It is that the things that look the most simple or mundane are the most dangerous.
Eyes straining as they tried to make out what was coming. It was sound that betrayed the enemy's location. It was the sound of footsteps that did not sound quite right. They were shambles and stumbles. The monsters coming became obvious with the groans that followed. They were zombies, and they were starting to come out of the shadows.
Almost everyone has seen them in movies, but to see them in life was another thing entirely. Little bits of sinew and flesh holding the arms in place as they try not to rip. Legs with bone sticking out of random places. Not to mention the vital organs that have started to slip out of the torso. Some even dragging behind the monsters approaching.
It wasn’t until they cleared the fog that the smell hit them. Flesh that was beyond rotting. Meat that should have been long discarded. All this with a hint of spoiled eggs. If not for the iron wills of the two Wardens they would have spilled their last meal in front of them. It truly was a horrific sight to behold.
It was Nick who moved first. With skill, he started to cut into the creatures approaching them. They made no attempt to even dodge his attacks, only seemed to accept their fate as he removed their limbs. Arms and legs were his target. Not knowing if he could truly kill them he decided immobilizing them was the best option.
Although his Rudis looked like wood, it had the power to cut through nearly everything. In fact the only thing that it has failed to cut has been things made of magic. Alex later explained that things created by magic have special rules on how to destroy them. Knowing this might have saved Nick’s arm.
The zombies were not creatures created by magic. They were creatures of flesh, but not blood. No matter how they were damaged or where, no blood leaked from the wounds. It seemed that all that once carried life within these creatures had long rotted away. All that remained was these mindless monsters.
The two Wardens fought their way to the center of the roundabout. Taking a defensive position by a water fountain while they figured out where to go. Thankfully the monsters were extremely slow and gave plenty of chance to dodge or avoid. Nick and Alex used this time to take in the change in their situation.
“What should we do?” Alex asked, after smashing a zombie with her skillet. It was not that she did not have her own ideas of what to do, she just trusted his combat instincts more.
“We need to get indoors.” Nick was standing between her and the biggest part of the horde. “The Library is the closest.” It also had the least amount of the creatures between them and the building. “I’ll cut a path, you follow on my heels.”
After listening to his plan, she readied herself to follow close. She was not the most fit person, but she also trusted he would not leave her behind. Not to mention he would have to slow down to attack anything between them and the building.
Her only fear was that he would break it and give no warning. When he started the count, that fear was put to rest. On three he broke out full speed. Not in a straight line, but attacking everything that might harm them. He was moving faster than she expected, faster than she had seen most people move. He was almost a blur to her, as he cut down the zombies.
With the efficiency he cut down the monsters she could have made it safely at a brisk walk. This was a further display of how far his skill had grown. From only being able to fight when the monster did not know he was there. To now where he recently fought on equal terms with a raging Werewolf.
It scared her on where he might be in the near future. She felt like she was being left further and further behind. Alex knew that the spells she had started learning helped. Yet there still felt like a glass ceiling that she could not break. Something was holding her back, but it eluded her.
With a bang, she slammed into the door. Her momentum too great for her to easily stop. Instead, she allowed herself to throw her shoulder into the door to stop. Luck was on their side, the door was unlocked. This prevented the need to break the door, allowing them to keep that barrier.
Faster than it would take to say it, both Wardens were in the building. Door locked behind them and one of them out of breath. Nick started to check out the room they were in as Alex caught her breath. Never going to far and always keeping his partner in sight. He did not want harm to befall her.
After sometime, Nick was sure nothing was in there waiting for them or at least nothing he could find. Now they could try and figure out what was going on. “What are your thoughts?” He asked, as he looked between the shelves of the library. Always watching for any movement.
“The townspeople became zombies?” She said it like a question. Even saying it, it was not right to her. The zombies had not been dressed like townspeople.
“They all wore old us military fatigues.” That was the one common thing about them. Some had similar wounds across their body, like burn marks. Yet nothing else matched. Something about them just was not sitting right with Nick. Something he could not really explain.
“They seem to be tied to the fog, but not the shadows.” During the fight the shadows never stopped doing things around them. They ignored both the Wardens and the Zombies. “So we figure out the fog, we figure out what they are.” If she had reception she would contact Empirehacker to ask him. He was the Wardens infobroker, and knew almost everything. If he didn’t know it, he knew how to find it.
“Did you notice that they healed?” Nick asked her as he returned to her position.
She was at a loss for how to respond. Their survival had been the only thing on her mind, she failed to notice that. The panic and fear stripped her of her greatest tool. This may have caused her to miss important details. Alex wanted to be angry at herself for what felt like a huge failure, but she knew she did not have time for that.
After a long bit of internal reflection, she finally responded, “no.” She did not want to say more or she might reveal this internal conflict.
“They did regrow anything, but their limbs would move on their own. Once they met with the body they would reattach.” During the fight he had noticed several arms and legs moving to reattached to the torso he had cut it off from. “The limbs only went to the body they were removed from.”
“This means that although they move in a horde, they are individuals.” They did not show intelligence. If they were a singular being, then where the limbs went would not matter. Since they went to the same body that lost them, they must be separate entities from each other. The question remains, was there some higher being controlling them.
“Vietnam,” Nick said out of the blue. He had fallen silent for a little bit after he mentioned the limb bit. The swordsman did not move to explain himself, he instead fell back into thought. In his mind he was going to the fight. Looking at every detail of the monsters, mostly their wounds. Those wounds were scars that told the story of how they came to be.
“The zombies came from the Vietnam war.” He finally said with a degree of certainty. After getting a confused look from his partner he explained. “At least most of them did. The uniform they were was worn during that time.” It was a simple clue, it gave roughly what era they came from. It was the kind of thing Nick would know. Military history was one of the few fields of study that he beat Alex in.
“Couldn’t they be older or more recent. Anyone could have dressed like that and died.” She had a fair point, but that did not account for something else.
‘Their wounds,” he was not a forensic specialist. Yet he had seen enough of what war could throw to figure this much out. “The bullet wounds look what a Ak-47 would do.” More than one of those guns had been used against him during his time as a Mercenary. Not to mention the times he had used it himself.
“The other common wound was burn marks.” There was a sudden pause from this warrior. In his mind he was back to being a young soldier. Even then he was skilled, but not experienced. He met a man who taught his unit how to track. A native american man who was like a ghost.
During their training he never spoke, except with sign language. He had lost his ability to speak during a war when his allies dropped Napalm on him. His vocal cords got scorched and most of his body was burned. That flammable goo in Nick’s mind was one of the worst weapons man had ever come up with. The old burnt wounds on that man were scarred into his mind. It took a while before he stopped waking up in cold sweets. From nightmares about what that stuff would have done to him.
It was a good thing that memory was so strong in his mind. That was over ten years ago, but he still remembered that pattern. Those zombies had a similar pattern. “The burn marks are from Napalm.” He left it at that.
Nick had a good poker face, and a scary thousand yard stare. Yet Alex could still see the conflict that was going through him. She had learned to read him and knew he was far more damaged than he let on. She also knew that he did not want her to see his weakness, for fear of what it might do to her.
These monsters were something beyond what they had fought before. Vampires, werewolves and mages were hard to kill, but not immortal. These creatures might be immortal. They did not care about getting hurt and when they did they put themselves back together. With these kind of creatures the only thing you could do is slow them down.
“Any idea on how we should proceed?” Nick asked suddenly. Trying to get his mind off what they had seen. How much pain those men must have felt before they became what they are.
“We need to find the source of all the fog and the monsters.” Saying it made it sound simple, it really wasn’t. “We happen to be around a lot of books, might find some answers here.”
“I do not think we have that kind of time.” For such a small town there was a lot of books here.
“That is the only thing I can think of.” Alex was at a loss of what to do. She could not ask Empirehacker for help, and she knew no spell that could help. Unless there was a dark corner of the library that had the answers she would not be able to find them. After she became aware of the supernatural she had found more of those corners.
“Let’s finish checking out this building.” He had never stopped looking around. He was limited by how far they could talk without raising their voices. “Maybe we’ll find something.” They needed to be sure that no creatures could get in and they also needed to find answers.
Both of the Wardens started to move through the dark building. Nick led his partner through the halls. As she kept her eyes drifting behind them. The only sound was their own footsteps. Not even the groans from the monsters out the doors. This made the trip even worse.
There is only one thing worse than traveling through a dark, silent and ominous building. It is when that building is no longer silent. Faintly at first was the a soft click. It was rhythmic and quick. As they drew closer voices could faintly be heard.
“One, Two,” It was sung, not spoken. “We, have, fun for you.” It sounded like little children singing. Three of them and their voices were harmonized. All that stood between the Wardens and the sound was a single door.
“Do we have to go in there?” Alex asked Nick as he reached for the door knob. “That sounds like a room of nightmares.”