A plane… He brought down a plane… I let him bring down a plane. I wasn’t upset or shocked, I was just numb. Some part of me told me I should be upset about killing hundreds of people. Another part screamed that my life was over, the Association would kill me, minor or not. Another part threw up explanations, excuses, looking for any and every possible reason for why this couldn’t be my fault. Most of me just wanted to go home, to crawl into bed, pull a blanket over my head, and never wake up again.
The hospital hallway was filled with beds. Between every room there were two beds, the head of one inches from the foot of the other. Some of the beds were hospital beds, some were mattresses on top of dollies. And some were just piles of blankets. And every single one was filled. IV stands and portable monitors were stuffed wherever there was space. People rushed through the narrow aisle, trying to avoid stepping on anything living. The hallway was a mass of scrubs, uniforms, and gowns. Nobody paid any attention to me as I waded into the crowd.
I followed the crowd. I probably couldn’t have done otherwise if I’d tried, the weight of bodies pushed everyone in the same direction. I took turns haphazardly, whenever a hallway opened up on my side of the corridor I took it. Eventually, I saw an empty bed being pushed down the packed hallway by an orderly who looked like he was about to fall asleep standing up. I followed a few feet behind him, taking the same turns. Eventually, we ended up in the Emergency Room. In the center of the room was a cluster of desks, staffed by a bunch of exhausted looking medical-people in their neon pajamas. On the far side of the desks, a cop was leaning against a piece of expensive looking equipment. The ER was filled to bursting with patients and providers, just like the rest of the hospital. My orderly took his bed into a room, I kept walking. Just in front of me was a double set of sliding glass doors. I walked toward them.
“Miss, I need you to use the other exit, those doors are for ambulances only!” A nurse called at me.
I ignored her. Her hair looked like something a bird might live in, and she had bags under her eyes large enough to fit groceries for a family of four. She turned around and walked into a room. I wasn’t her patient, I wasn’t her problem. I’m pretty sure she had plenty of problems, sleep deprivation foremost among them.
The automatic doors opened as I approached. I walked into a small dingy room filled with supplies. Another set of double doors on the far side of the room opened out into a little cul-de-sac for ambulances to pull up. On one wall, there was a little kitchenette with a fridge, a coffee pot, and some cabinets. The other wall was filled with all sorts of medical supplies, oxygen tanks half my height, and backboards half again as tall as me, amongst other things. And a rack of ugly looking gray-green scrubs. Jackpot! I grabbed a small top and bottom, and some extra-large pants. Then I started rifling through the food cabinets. I tied the legs of my new pair of XXL scrub pants together, instant-knapsack. I stuffed a few dusty looking apples and some of those little square plastic boxes of cereal that they always have in hotels down the waist. Two cans of coke and a couple bags of chips rounded out my meal. Of course, it was at that moment, that two firefighters walked in.
So, there I was, standing in the little dingy break room, with my stolen food and two concerned firefighters and a very confused old lady on their stretcher. They said something to me, but I tuned them out. There was no lie I could tell that would get me past them with my stolen food. If I tried to talk my way out of this, I’d just end up stuck here until I told them my name and address. Instead I analyzed the room around me while they made their talking noises. Oxygen cylinders, accelerant, unsure how sturdy the gauges were. Food, low-level flammability. The firefighters were wearing dark blue uniforms instead of bunker gear, so pyromancy was an option. But, I didn’t have a lighter, and firefighters would be less likely to freak than normal civilians. My rings were removed when I was brought in, so enchantment was out. The firefighters stood between me and the exit, their stretcher sat in the middle of the door, one man on either side of it.
The man on the left was large. He wasn’t fat, but he was tall and he had a reasonable amount of meat on his frame. He was older, his salt-n-pepper hair put him past forty, but he probably was closer to three times my size than two. The man on the right was shorter, but younger and fitter. He was blonde and didn’t look like he was too much older than me. He looked as wide-eyed and bushy-tailed as a raccoon on crack. Or a raccoon that had been electrocuted and then hair-sprayed. Basically, he looked terrible, probably as sleep deprived as the nurse I’d seen earlier. I charged him.
It barely took me two steps to close the distance to Raccoon-Man. He just stood there, halfheartedly turning as he moved his hands off of the stretcher and brought them in front of him. It wasn’t much of a combat stance. I ducked under his arms and slammed my shoulder into his stomach. He stumbled back, shouting. I slipped through the opening between him and the doorway, twisting as I slipped by. I brought my elbow across, aiming for Raccoon-Man’s chest, but he was ready this time. He caught my elbow between his arm and his chest, and reached for me with his other hand. I pulled back before he could could grab my shoulder, then snapped my leg up, aiming for his genitals. He didn’t quite shift his legs quite fast enough, and my knee drove home, smashing his nuts. I took advantage of his pain to twist out of his grip and make a run for it.
I turned and ran before the older firefighter could make his way around the stretcher, my makeshift knapsack over one shoulder, gown waving indecently behind me. I didn’t try to navigate, I just ran, placing one foot in front of the other. Faster, quicker, turning only to avoid walls I couldn’t leap over, streets too busy to immediately cross. People shouted as I passed, so I ran towards where there were less people. My lungs started burning first. With every breath, every step, the bandages on my chest cut into me. I could feel wetness on my forehead and my chest, and I didn’t know if it was blood or sweat.
I didn’t care. I just wanted to run, to leave everything behind me. And my body complied, I felt lighter than I ever had before, stronger. My injuries were nothing compared to the sheer need to escape. I ran faster, leaping over a wall half my height. I felt grass between my toes. I saw trees. I dodged trees. I kept running. I don’t remember how far I ran, or what turns I took. I kept going until a thought popped into my head.
“How…” I asked aloud, slowing down. It was a miracle that I was walking after what happened at the airport. I was no track star when I wasn’t recently beaten to within an inch of my life. I stopped keeping track of where I was placing my feet as unpleasant possibilities started fighting for my attention. I fell forward, sliding across the concrete. My arms and bandages took the worst of the skidding, but it still stung. It was then that I finally took stock of my surroundings.
I found myself in a dark alley. Apartment buildings towered over me to either side, leaving only a thin strip of the night sky above me. The televisions in the windows shed more light on the damp street than the dim stars above. The alley felt like it stretched forever, looking over my shoulder, I could barely see the sliver of light that marked where I had entered. That wasn’t just because of the distance though.
Behind me, loomed a massive wolf. It was so large I was amazed that it could fit into the alley without knocking things over. It wasn’t a normal wolf though, from a distance it might have passed as an animal, but up close, it was unlike any canine I had ever seen. The far edges of it’s fur blurred and wavered, merging seamlessly into the night around it. I idly wondered what it would feel like to pet the monster. A hundred other details about the wolf, it’s violet eyes, it’s dark grey fur, it’s oddly white teeth, flashed through my mind in an instant. Then they changed, the eyes were orange, the fur shot with white hairs, the teeth yellowing. It was impossible to keep the animal fixed in my mind, the longer I watched it, the more jarring each transition became. One moment it was a wolf, the next it looked closer to a panther, and pain shot through my jaw. It took a step towards me, it’s cloud of darkness billowing behind it. I turned, half to run away, half so I could stop looking at it. I could feel it’s breath on my neck, first cold enough to give me goosebumps, then warm and rancid. I stumbled forward, deeper into the darkness, every thought but escape driven from my head.
The monster loped lazily behind me, easily matching my pace. I barely made it two steps before the wolf-panther pounced. It caught me across the shoulders, easily bowling me over and pinning me to the ground. It was surprisingly light for it’s size. Unfortunately, that meant it was only five times my weight, instead of ten. It settled down on top of me, keeping just enough weight on me to make struggling futile, but not enough to crush the life out of me.
On the bright side, I got to discover what it’s fur felt like. My gown wasn’t exactly well-tied in the back, so the fur of it’s underbelly sat flush against my skin. I would probably be more embarrassed if I was less scared. Anyway, the wolf felt… cool and dry. That’s the best way I can describe it, it’s fur wasn’t moist or oily, and it wasn’t much warmer than the air.
I could see it’s forepaws out of the corner of my eye, if I tried to look directly at them they started changing like the rest of the monster. And every time I watched them change, the headache started to set in again. I guess it was really more of a face-ache than a headache, it was worst in my jaw and just above my eyes. I eventually settled on closing my eyes and trying to think happy thoughts. The wolf-panther-thing seemed content to just sit on me.
The monster would have been fascinating if it’s teeth weren’t inches from my neck. I had never heard of anything that changed shapes this frequently. Then again, I wasn’t exactly a Hunter, dealing with monsters really wasn’t my job. The few times I’ve had to go up against magical creatures, I was either defending my turf or told what I was dealing with in advance.
Remember that rule I mentioned earlier? “If your adversary does something unexpected, you’re probably fucked.” A good addendum to that would be: If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably going to eat you.
The wolf-panther growled, as if he same thought had just passed through it’s head. It started slobbering down the back of my neck, it’s spit was just as cool as its fur. This just wasn’t my week… It shifted on top of me, bringing it’s head low enough I could feel it against my neck. It opened it’s mouth, putting my entire neck between it’s jaws.
Someone chuckled. I opened my eyes.
A man stood in the alley in front of me. He wasn’t all that intimidating of a man, maybe a hair above average height, young, with dark hair. He was wearing a gray sweatshirt with the hood down and dark cargo pants. I couldn’t see his eyes from here, which was odd. He was practically wearing the battle uniform of the Dominion, but his eyes were normal-colored. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“Bad Wolf!” He chided.
If wolves could chuckle, I’d swear that’s what it did. Then it lifted it’s teeth off my throat, and started licking me.