The late afternoon sun began to disappear as its light dispersed across the city of Vilnius. A cool breeze moved through the streets as dozens of pedestrians walked from workplace to bar, bar to home or home to work place. A few cars rumbled by, it was a seemingly innocuous scene, but Will’s well trained eyes told him that there was much more at play.
For a start, there were at least two shapeshifters, creatures in human form moving amongst the crowd in front of him. He could only sense their power when he channelled his own and right now he was not as doing so could allow the very creatures he was stalking to detect him. But after more than two years of following the creatures, studying them, dissecting them, he knew how they moved. It was the tiny little differences that told the story, the way they moved mechanically, disconnected from the people around them. Only the best shapeshifters could get by him, and most were still only relatively new at the job. The Nameless were experts at getting into human society at every level. They had creatures or humans under their employ working in administration, truck drivers, factory workers, right up to employers, CEO’s and advisors to the odd government official. In this way they could influence the world around them without the use of force, it was clever, and Will could almost respect them for their expertise.
For example, how does one get building approval from the city to knock down old buildings and rebuild new factories, depots and an office building?
Well, you fill out the forms necessary, and in Eastern Europe it’s handy to slip in some cash to speed things along, but when it comes time for approval, if one of your men is the one signing the paper, or has the ear of the man who is doing the signing, then the process is actually quite simple.
As a result, Will was in the inner suburbs, not too far from the small CBD of the city, watching people move around the constructions sites of four new buildings.
The roads were being pulled up in front as well, but they seemed to be a different crew, possibly local government doing up keeping for these new businesses. That aspect was ironically legitimate, but what was going on behind was not.
Exactly what Derrick was up to was not clear, but at a basic level it wasn’t complicated. Will knew how the man operated, Derrick was a logical man. Why he had abandoned his territory in the South he couldn’t fathom, but he had in a very quick time been able to get the people and resources to build up another leg of his empire in the Northern Baltic states. The purpose of which would no doubt be to perpetuate his syndicates dominance in another part of Europe. They were very close to Russia, indeed a truck could reach St Petersburg in twelve hours, excluding border stops, this was big business.
But was it all just expansion for expansions sake? Will couldn’t say, and he and Chen were unable to discern any more via speculation.
As it was, they had decided to just carry on and see what they could find out. So far, Will was able to tail various agents, crew and foremen from Derrick’s construction project and this had enabled him to get an idea of the various locals of the city and the broader network. But where to after this? Perhaps Riga? Riga, the capital of Latvia was most logical, it took them closer to Russia, and the airport and highways tended to improve marginally from Riga, acting as a small hub in the region.
Will hadn’t seen Derrick, but he decided to follow another man, this one was a shapeshifter, it hobbled along in human form, that of a man in his late thirties, slightly pudgy, balding, unassuming. He wore a work helmet but removed it as he left the site, he carried some documents he had received from one of the foremen. Will wanted to see where he was heading.
A block out of the city, the streets began to quiet down a little, but there was still a general buzz. The creature was clearly unaware of his stalker and moved on untroubled. Will kept a hundred paces behind and stopped on occasions to tie his shoe or check a shop window, or look at a street sign. He’d done this thing plenty of times before, it was nothing new.
After a second block, the creature stopped to light up a cigarette. A most curious behaviour, as the creatures didn’t seem to gain the same sort of pleasure from the chemicals as humans did, ut it became normal for them to fit in, and Eastern Europeans smoked quite heavily, especially the men. There were no anti smoking rules, and only a notional acknowledgement of the health concerns, it was simply a way of life.
The creature waited for a few moments, Will continued to walk towards him, the smell of his cigarette reaching his face. Slowly, not looking at the man directly. Lithuanian’s weren’t very open people, so a stare from a stranger was an uncommon thing.
As Will passed the creature it looked at him, casually though, Will didn’t respond, but he did notice out of the corner of his eye, another man approaching. Taking a step behind the next building, slightly out of the way as to avoid being in line of sight, he listened to the voices in his ear.
He had very casually dropped a small device just near them, a tiny microphone, built by Chen, the technical genius he was. Its range wasn’t good, but it did the trick.
The two men spoke in Russian, it was faint, but the conversation was easy enough to follow.
The paperwork changed hands, everything was going according to plan, the Vilnius operations would be operational within a fortnight, Kaunas would start soon.
‘Kaunas?’ Will thought for a moment. A small city less than two hours away, the second city of Lithuania. Not strategically important, but it showed that their ambitions for expansion had not yet been slayed.
There was some small talk, then the two went their separate ways. Will hid behind a dumpster in the small courtyard, then went back to pick up the small microphone, the message recorded for later analysis.
He could see the other man moving off down the side street, the envelope in his hand. Will desperately wanted to see what was in it and so he decided to follow. Was it a man? He was now a little way off, if he were a shapeshifter, he was very very good at it.
Will followed the figure down the side street, far quieter than the main street he had just left. The sun was close to setting but he could still clearly see the messenger moving away from him.
He closed the distance somewhat and managed to get quite close before the figure suddenly darted down an even quieter alley.
Will jogged to catch up, around the corner, in between the two storey buildings that seemed to almost lean in on him, there was no sign of life. Had he been seen? It was possible, but the messenger hadn’t even turned around. Bugger.
Walking twenty or so strides down the alley, Will decided to continue so as to not look suspicious, and if he didn’t see anything, he would give up the chase.
Another ten steps, his shoes ground at the loose dirt and dust in the unkempt road, he was nearly at the end when something made him stop. His heart skipped a beat and a curious physiological reaction occurred, something he couldn’t explain but had happened to him enough that he knew what it meant.
Even though he wasn’t drawing on his powers, there was something within him that knew something very close, very powerful was drawing on a large amount of energy. He supposed it had to be the messenger after all, if he was in fact a creature in human form he would be using his energy simply to maintain his facade. But this was stronger still.
Barely a second had passed since he stopped, he dropped and rolled to his right, coming up facing back towards the disturbance behind him, simultaneously drawing on his powers. Not enough to alert creatures nearby to his presence, but enough to summon up some strength which he could channel into his forearms and chest.
‘Ah, so it is you,’ a voice said in Russian.
Will couldn’t see clearly what he was looking at, the sun had just dipped behind the buildings and his vision was limited. He could see the figure in front of him, not ten paces away, hiding in the shadows. Now with his power surging through him Will could see clearly the creature, the shapeshifter, glowing a deep yellow white as his senses picked him up. Will began to strengthen his reserves, ready for battle.
‘I wasn’t sure if you had found us yet, but here you are,’ it continued.
‘What are you talking about?’ Will responded in kind.
‘Well, you’re not the only one who is tracking us, but you are no ordinary human. You are the hybrid, the chosen one.’
‘Bah,’ Will chortled. He’d been called such titles before by the very creature’s he hunted, they were meaningless, he was simply the only human who had their power, that was all, an anomaly.
‘So what now? You know we are no longer limited to old Yugoslav, we are reaching out across Europe, what do you plan to do about it?’
‘Simple, stop you.’
‘Ha!’ The creature laughed, ‘I don’t think you quite realise what you’re getting into. You think you stop a few drugs from hitting the streets or destroy a few guns and we’re powerless? You have barely given us a skinned knee.’
‘Maybe so, but you can afford to lose a lot more skin, so what are you going to do?’
‘Simple, this-‘ The creature moved suddenly, Will rolled further to his left as a large blast of energy tore towards him, ripping up the decaying road, shards of stone flying in all directions. The blast barely nicked him, but would have been enough to rip someone apart or burn them to a crisp, but he had drawn enough of his strength to shield himself with his right hand, the energy dissipating and deflecting away as he flung a whip of more controlled energy from his left. It slashed through the air, it did no damage to the ground or nearby walls, but was so strong and concentrated that it would slice through hardened steel.
The creature was too slow to dodge, but draw its full strength to its core and manged to block the blow. Will’s energy stopped, but not before the creature was pushed back into the darkness, the force of the blow taking all momentum away from it.
Thinking quick, Will charged at it, running quickly to close the distance, but the creature pulled itself together, charged some energy into its hands and clapped. A loud blast sent a shockwave towards Will, it was as wide as the street, he couldn’t avoid it. It wasn’t concentrated enough to cause him harm, but it distracted him, his vision and hearing gone for a crucial second. When he looked up , the creature was gone. Will scanned the area with his inner mind, there were no creatures within this city block, not one. Either this creature had gone to ground, stopped drawing on its power so as to remain undetectable, or it moved with incredible pace, either way, there was no way for Will to find it now.
Pacing quickly, Will made it back to the safe house, he could see it, it wasn’t too far away, at the end of the now dark street he stalked. He was angry, confused. The creature had been expecting to see him, but they hadn’t known for sure that he was in Vilnius, but now they knew for sure. He desperately wanted to kill the shapeshifter, but it was too late for that. Worse still, he couldn’t just move on, he’d not finished establishing the network of Derrick’s operation, if he moved to another city he would be going in blind. He needed more information to know what they were up to, where to go to next.
Nearing the apartment’s front door, Will suddenly turned and walked past it. He was being followed, had been too distracted to notice, he couldn’t afford to lose his touch now. He pulled out his phone and called Chen. His friend picked up, the English/Asian accent met his ears.
‘Come on out, I’m heading down the street and I’m being tailed, I need a hand.’
‘I was just doing my hair’.
‘Hurry,’ Will answered sharply. Chen cut the call, Will returned the phone to his pocket and kept moving. He was barely using his powers, he didn’t want to get detected, but he had enough to reach out and check the area around him. There were no creatures in the vicinity, maybe he was being followed by a human? It was possible, some worked for Derrick after all.
Following directions Will text him, Chen moved through one street, Will another, and by zigzagging back and forth they had successfully created a grid whereby They could check behind each other, making sure they weren’t being followed. After a few passes, this gave them no clues, so Will switched to plan B.
They changed their pattern, moving in amongst the dark streets, Will hit a dead end, but there was only one way in, so if his tale was still there -he was sure they were, then Chen could come up behind them and flush them out.
Will stopped at the brick building, a locked door in front of him, the smell of the dank road surrounded him. He turned and scanned again, still nothing. No wait, he heard footsteps, very faint. Just around the corner, the one alleyway leading into the courtyard, a figure emerged, cautiously at first, but then came out into full view once Will made eye contact.
‘Nothing?’ He asked.
‘Not a thing,’ Chen replied.
‘Well well, our peeping friend is rather skilled isnt’ he.’
‘Sure is Will, look down.’ Will looked at his shirt, a red dot jittered there. He froze. A sniper rifle no doubt. He was wearing body armour, but it was thin stuff, designed to be hidden, worn under clothes, good against punches, knives, but a high powered rifle? It was marginal to put it mildly. He drew a little more power and created a shield over the red dot. It would be invisible to anyone except the creatures, they would see the concentration, but Will was sure, more than before, that whoever had the weapon, was in fact a human.
‘What should I do?’ Chen hissed, too afraid to run, not skilled enough to fight back. Will tried to see where the light was coming from, there could be up to a dozen windows, too many to track down.
‘You should stay where you are,’ came a voice, in English, but with Eastern European accent. Will thought it sounded Serbian, in fact he thought he recognised the voice.
The red light disappeared, after a few moments, a door opened and a figure emerged into the poorly lit street, a rifle slung over his shoulder.
‘Jovan,’ Will muttered, ‘I never thought I’d see you again.’
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2017