The room was a mess, it had been torn apart indiscriminately. They weren’t looking for something, they wanted this place to be inoperable. A stool was knocked over as if someone had stood up in a hurry. Chen.
Then Will remembered that they had built a safe room at the back at the far wall, it was actually quite flimsy, but it was made from the same materials as the rest of the room and thus looked like a false wall. Given that the room was underground it would be difficult to tell that it was smaller on the inside. Had he got in before the door was kicked in?
‘Chen?!’ He called as he made his way to the back wall. He pulled out his knife to release the makeshift latch but didn’t need to, it creaked open and Chen stood in front of him looking somewhat pale and sweaty, but otherwise in one piece.
Thank Christ. He sighed.
‘Well I’m glad to see you,’ he said fiddling with his glasses, his nerves still playing up.
‘Well, I was sitting down when I heard someone breaking in upstairs. They weren’t that loud actually, but luckily I was paying attention. I thought that maybe it was a random break in, but didn’t want to take the chance. I hid in the safe room, hadn’t been in there more than five seconds when the door was kicked in. They wrecked up the joint and left. I guess they just wanted to break our toys.’
‘No, they wanted you. It was a trap, the lieutenant was a trap, but they clearly didn’t realise who they were dealing with, they figured I was just someone snooping around, but they hedged their bets and came after you as well. Take us both out in one swift strike.’
‘So they got none from two,’ Chen said as he poked around the room, sifting through the debris.
‘No, but at least we learnt something.’
‘Yeah, I learnt to lock the bloody door next time.’
‘Ah, so you can be taught. I was actually referring to the fact that they knew not only that I was going to attack tonight, but they knew where to find you, and that there is only the two of us. That’s not so good.’
‘No, we’ve clearly underestimated their abilities at counterintelligence. Did you get Derrick’s location?’
‘I got his address and practically what chair he’ll be sitting in, the problem is, he’ll know that I’m coming for him now and will either move or have a ridiculous amount of security around him.’
‘So what are we going to do?’
‘Well, I’d say the best bet is to clean up and be out of here by morning. Whatever isn’t salvageable we’ll dump. The creatures are crawling all over this city so we need to get moving.’
‘Ok, where are we headed to?’
Only six hours had passed and both men were boarding their flight from Skopje to Zagreb. It was a smaller flight and damn expensive. Macedonia had been neglected by budget airlines, there weren’t any cheap flights to and from its one and only international airport, but Will and Chen had enough money that it wasn’t a problem. The one thing about going after a crime syndicate is that the spoils from any victories were plentiful. They didn’t have the sort of cash they could retire on, not unless they wanted a shack on the side of a mountain somewhere, but it was enough to keep them running for a few months at a time even when they were buying expensive equipment and weapons, not to mention getting their things shipped from place to place. It wasn’t hard to hide weapons with a shipping company especially in the Balkans, but taking them personally was something else entirely.
Will had taken to setting up storage areas and small bases of operations in as many countries as seemed necessary. That way he could leave his weapons there and fly without a concern and pick some up at the other end. Having said that he always carried one or two surprises with him, just in case.
The plane rumbled as the engines started and it began taxing up the runway. Will allowed a small smile to reach his face as he bade farewell to the airport and Macedonia once again. The airport was named ‘Alexander the Great international airport,’ a great example of a pun from the officials. Macedonia and Greece had been in argument over the name of the country since its inception after World War 2. Greece has a region known as Macedonia, and don’t take too kindly to a country just next door taking the same name. Both lay claim to the ancient kingdom of Macedon that saw Alexander the Great raise the biggest empire in history, at the time. Greece had blocked Macedonia’s attempts at getting into the United Nations and the European Union, all because of a name. In response, the Macedonians renamed their airport as a giant middle finger to their southern neighbours.
As for Will, the idea of claiming connection with people thousands of years before, considering the amount of war, famine, immigration seemed absolutely ridiculous no matter what side of the fence you were on.
Will’s mind ran back to the task at hand. He had to think of his next course of action, after all they were up against it. They had no base of operation in Zagreb, they had no contacts on the ground, and Derrick would be expecting them. Strictly speaking there was no reason why he should fly straight into Zagreb, he could have flown to Budapest or even Austria and then come over by train, but he was hoping that word of his escape wouldn’t be reaching Zagreb until sometime during the day. It was a bit of a risk, but now that it was after 7 in the morning, the sun was up and blazing already and they were rocketing towards their destination with a better than fair chance that they would be facing an enemy as soon as they hit the tarmac.
Chen managed to sleep for most of the trip and Will even caught about twenty minutes, but the announcement of their arrival awoke them both and with eyes darting left and right they disembarked with their carry on bags.
Within twenty minutes they were through customs and awaiting their luggage. Will spied a couple of characters looking their way, they weren’t shapeshifters, he would know, but humans worked for the creatures as well, that was sadly common enough and a damnation on his own species.
Two things still had him puzzled after these two long years, where on earth the nameless monsters had come from in the first place, and why on earth any humans would side with them. He got it intellectually of course, they offered money and power and that spoke to a lot of people who were otherwise helpless, but to give up your own species, that was beyond Will’s understanding.
Retrieving their bags and not declaring anything they left the arrival hall and found a taxi easily enough. The two men Will spotted had not followed, so maybe he was just imaging things. Zagreb was not a big city, but now that the summer holidays had kicked in, the place was practically empty. Everyone went to the pristine Croatian coast, the city seemed almost post apocalyptic, minus the decay.
As a result the drive into the city was quick and easy. The large Habsburg buildings, green domes elegant design, their own imitation of Parisian grandeur outlined the walkways and roads of the city centre. The main train station looked better than most buildings in London despite its basic use.
It was also therefore easy for Will to spot the two men who had been following them. They weren’t the men from the airport, but these two were less obvious.
That always gives them away.
The few dozen people in the centre were not enough to hide them however and as Will and Chen left their taxi and made for their hotel not too far away, the two men kept pace with them. The wide and long streets made it even easier to spot them, so much so that Will became suspicious that they were decoys. He scanned the roof tops of the lush buildings, the narrow roads that shot off from the main road, nothing yet.
‘Two men on our tale,’ Chen muttered as he lit a cigarette.
‘Yeah, you watch them, I’ll look for the others.’
‘You think we’re really that popular?’
‘Well, I suspect that they wont underestimate us again like last night.’
‘Yeah, I was hoping for a sleep, but I guess I can skip that once again.’
‘Maybe a stop for some breakfast would be a good idea.’
‘I suppose, heavy pastries again with thick muddy coffee?’ Chen’s tone said he’d become quite sick of Balkan food, Will quite enjoyed it, its mix of Asian food from the Ottoman empire and European foods made it quite interesting and diverse. They stopped at a cafe where the smell of freshly brewed coffee and butter melting on warm bread wafted out to great them. They had croissants and western style coffee as a compromise. It was nice and simple and went down well, although Will took his time to allow for the two men to get a seat at a cafe across the street. There was a low buzz of activity as those that were still working in the city walked by, but they were sparse enough to seem odd. After all a constant stream of people in suits seems normal, but one every hundred paces seems out-of-place. He waited for them to grow restless, eventually, as Will was working on his second cup of coffee, one of them got up and went inside, no doubt to use the toilet.
‘Ok, move.’ He said as he slapped a one hundred Kuna note on the table, about ten euros which would more than cover their breakfast. They picked up their bags and moved quickly, but not in a too obvious fashion. Will took a right down a side street away from the already sparse traffic, at effectively a right angle from the direction they wanted to go. Chen followed obediently, knowing Will enough to know that he never did anything without a purpose. He had been lost, beaten and nearly killed when Will had found him and he’d never had to question his friend since.
Upon making their way into the next tee junction Will took a hard left, the street was dead empty, it was perfect. Once out of view he pulled up next to the building on the footpath, placed his bags down and waited near the alley’s exit, Chen stayed by the bags. Will had none of his more effective weapons on him, but he didn’t think he needed them at this point.
He waited, not for long, less than a minute, but dutifully, the man came around the corner, Will recognised him as the one who had not gone to the toilet. His eyes bulged in surprise as Will reached out, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, dragged him around the corner and pinned him against the wall with such force it knocked the wind out of him.
‘Ok, if you want to live you do as I say, understand?’ Will spoke in Serbian, the man looked local, short, stocky with a slightly tanned complection. If he were Croatian, he would understand, the languages were very similar. The man nodded in reply.
‘Right, now your friend will catch up to us very soon, if you haven’t answered me by the time he gets here I will kill you so I can grab him, so let’s get down to business. You two are both decoys, so where are the others?’
‘You, you what?’ He growled, his face up close to the scared man.
‘I don’t know, they didn’t tell me. They just said to follow you and take note of where you stayed. I told them I don’t follow people, it’s not my job, but they didn’t care.’
‘Because you’re a decoy you idiot they don’t care if you get caught and killed, do you have any idea who you are working for?’
‘I, who? I know they are criminals, I know what we do is illegal, but I just do deliveries for them, I do what I am told.’ The man was practically pleading, and possibly on the verge of wetting himself. Will glanced over and saw a wedding band on the man’s hand. ‘What about your friend? Maybe he has some answers?’
‘I doubt it, he only came along last week. We have day jobs together so I recommended he come along, just a way to make some more money.’
Will released him. ‘Well maybe you know now that your employers are playing a dangerous game. I’m here to upset their apple cart, so I suggest you go back to your day job, now find your friend and leave.’
‘Yes, yes, ok.’ The man nodded in gratitude, mopped sweat from his forehead and turned to run down the alley he had just emerged from.
Will picked up his bags and they continued on, still not in the way of their hotel.
‘At the end of the road, there is what appears to be an apartment building, they went in there.’
Chen had become quite adept at being useful without being told. He knew that the men were decoys as well, and thus accosting them would likely stir up the real tails.
‘Why did you let them go?’ Chen asked, not that he liked killing, had never done it himself, but he understood what they were up against.
‘They were bottom of the barrel, didn’t even know they worked for the nameless. This is the one case where ignorance really is an excuse.’ Chen nodded, he knew what Will meant. He knew how he hated the creatures for what they had done to him, but he seemed to hate the humans who worked for them even more. But few signed up knowing what they were getting into. They would start at the low-end of the local gang, only later finding out they were part of a bigger organisation, and then after some time and showing loyalty, the truth would be revealed. The syndicate was run not by humans, but by nameless beasts from the depths of their nightmares. If they had been in the gang long enough and saw what power and money they could have, many would stay on even after the revelation, these are the ones Will hated. The others who rejected them for the horror was too much were no doubt eliminated. These men hadn’t even made it past the first level, and being threatened with death might just scare them straight.
‘Wait here,’ Will said as they reached the door in question.
‘There were three of them.’
‘Ah, I only sensed two, ok wont be long.’
He disappeared inside, the door wasn’t even locked. It was the entrance to an apartment building of some kind, the interior had been chipped away but was once a pleasant marble with spiral staircase, it smelt a bit grimy although he couldn’t see any one thing to point to for the sake of placing blame. It would have been for the well to do, now it would be modest rentals in the city centre. Making his way to the second floor, he walked to the first door, no that ‘s not it, the second door. He knew this was the one, a solid-looking brown wooden number. One of them was on the other side of the door, he knew it. Were they going to kill him or were they supposed to only follow, it didn’t matter, he would assume the worst.
The second one was further back in the centre of the room, he knew that as well, but there was a third one, one he couldn’t find. No matter, he would soon enough.
Will pulled his bronze knuckles out and strapped them onto his left hand, he pulled out the knife he had retrieved from his luggage, a smaller one, but big enough to cause some damage.
He tried the door handle, it was unlocked and the door began to move, so they wanted him to come in.
Well then, best not disappoint.
He took his hand away and readied his weapons, then he kicked the door, it swung open to the right, he ran in and jammed the knife firmly into the one near the door. He was in human form, a man, he had a gun, how lazy, but his knife was so quick that the gun fell to the floor, and the man gasped and fell back in pain. Unfortunately he took the knife with him and Will turned to face the other one, staring at him from the middle of the room. It had no weapons, they rarely did, they were living weapons. It began to change, the hands became claws, the legs became triple jointed, the clothes fell away, the skin became gray, muscles stringy, and the eyes, always the eyes turning a dark soulless black and multiplying in size giving them a truly alien look.
The one with the knife stuck in him barely moved, he was done for, but Will didn’t have time to retrieve his weapon, he had to take the other one out before it finished changing.
It was then that he noticed a sound from behind him. He turned just in the nick of time as the third one, a man wearing jeans and a leather jacket who had been hiding behind the door pulled a gun, a 9mm of some kind out in a flash and aimed it at Will. Will ducked low as a shot went off overhead. He then dashed at the man, tackled him around the mid section and drilled him against the wall. He punched him hard with his left hand, the knuckles pressing against his fingers, but he knew he inflicted far more pain on his target. Using his right hand he twisted the wrist that held the gun, it clattered to the ground. He kicked it and it slid well away from them as he drilled in another punch.
The man was winded badly, but it was taking too long and he knew it. Will pulled away just in time to see the huge creature lunge at him. It wasn’t the biggest he’d ever seen but it stood taller than him and the inhuman long arms and claws made it tough for him to defend himself. The huge force of the creature crashed into him and smashed him into the wall, leaving an imprint as the plaster gave way. He gasped for air, the claws were flailing at him, he blocked the attacks with his hands, flashes of light darted in his vision, Will couldn’t fight for long with his back to the wall, he had to try something. He ducked low, brought up his left fist and smashed it into the creature, it doubled over and he jumped up, kneeing it in the face. It flew backwards and slid across the ground of the sparsely furnished apartment.
Will ran for it, he had to fight it more out in the open, but he only made it two steps when he felt a crack across the back of his head. He realised his mistake, the man, the human must have recovered and had hit him with something.
It wasn’t a fatal blow he realised, but it was enough to knock him out. He had to do something, he reached out, not with his hands, but from within, he had to defend himself. His vision faded, it all went black.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2016