Jovan strode through the dull lighting of the forgotten streets of Vilnius’s seamier areas. He had been in the city several times before but something he never quite got used to was the timid nature of the people. Being from Serbia he was used to oppression, a lack of confidence in the regime that ruled over him, a certain despair that was ever present like the dull grey clouds that swept over Belgrade every Autumn. But the people of the Balkans always had a resilient attitude, a confidence not in the systems around them, but in themselves. They had been through too much to feel any different.
But whilst Lithuania looked vaguely similar to his homeland, communist style architecture, run down infrastructure, a steady flow of confused foreigners who have no idea how your alphabet works, it was the people who Jovan noticed the most. The Northerners seemed always reserved, within their shells, whether they are simply timid, or perhaps outright frightened, it was sometimes hard to tell. He had met with some locals in his travels, after all he needed to make connections, and the people seemed brave, yet were held back by a certain reservation that would never slow a Serbian.
But it was also the ones that stood out that drew Jovan’s attention, they stood out because they weren’t human. Underneath his long cloak his fingers ran over the high powered rifle he carried. It was cumbersome, but necessary on a day like this.
The sun was going down, the cool breeze deflected by his clothing and a lifetime of adaption, Jovan’s steely dark eyes watched as a creature walked nonchalantly through the throng of people, leaving the main thoroughfare and worming its way through the streets and alleyways, moving ever closer to Jovan’s location. He would be a rather intimidating sight he speculated. He was about average height for a Serbian man, olive complection, black hair cut short, but just long enough to show that it had a natural curl. He had a permanent five o’clock shadow, a thick beard was his heritage, and a strong jaw line that gave him a rather authoritative look. Standing as he was, arms inside his coat, staring into the middle distance, the narrow streets of the old brick buildings his surrounds, the slightly damp ground and cracked stone road beneath him was worn with overuse, much like the boots he wore, they were brown, but looked tough as leather, as did the wearer.
The creature walked towards him, it hadn’t seen him yet, and it wouldn’t either, he was well aware of their ability to see in the dark, and hiding in the shadows would do no good, but he wasn’t ready to be seen yet and so hugged the wall exposing only his strong hawklike nose and dagger like eyes.
The creature had delivered the parcel and moved on, Will was tracking the other creature and the parcel, he could help him attain it, or take it for himself, allowing Will to be a decoy, the young man wouldn’t know he was even there. He would simply end up standing over the body of the creature wondering where the envelope had gone.
But instead he decided to follow the other creature, perhaps he could learn something from it.
The creature walked past Jovan, he slipped further out of sight, it didn’t notice him. He then followed it, moving like the wind, silent, ever present.
A block further into the suburbs, further away from prying eyes and the creature went to a small underground flat, it’s accommodation for the time being.
Jovan hadn’t know about this one, but marked it on his mental map for later reference.
The creature locked the door behind it, looked around the pitch black room and sighed, it had been another long and dull day, and despite the fact that it was nearly night, it felt the need for some sleep. It was contemplating some food – there was meat in the cupboard, that would do, when the door knocked.
‘Da?’ It called.
There was another knock. Frustrated it stomped to the door, flung it open and stared into the empty space in front of him. A quick glance, another sigh of frustration and it turned away, pushing the door closed. Just before it latched it heard a noise, the door hitting something. It turned quickly and screeched as a blade of some kind was sunk deep into its shoulder. A blur of motion and a human body had pushed it against the wall. It cried in pain, the human whispered to it to be still.
‘I will kill you monster unless you give me what I want.’
‘What do you want?’ It answered in Russian.
‘I know nothing, I am just a worker.’
‘Bull shit, you just delivered a parcel, now I think I know what was in it, but I want confirmation.’
‘I don’t know what was inside,’ the creature protested.
‘Ok, so you don’t know that it was instructions for the first shipments to go to Latvia?’
The creature went noticeably quiet.
‘I thought so, now all I need to know is when it will leave.’
‘Go to hell!’ It screeched, the blade was twisted which made it cry in pain.
‘Not so smart, now one more time.’
‘No time,’ the creature repeated and smiled up at Jovan, even in the dim light he could see the creature’s fangs, it was beginning to turn back into its natural form, ‘for you!’ it concluded, its hands, already once again claws, slashed at Jovan. He jumped back, leaving the blade buried in the monster. He heard a crash from behind and was forced to turn quickly as a second creature, also half human, half hideous monster jumped at him.
Jovan managed to withdraw his rifle in time to use it as a staff and force the creature to stay at arms length.
He leapt forward and smashed the but of the gun into the creature’s maw, it grunted but seemed unfazed as its form turned more and more gruesome, eyes becoming large black pools of heavy water, nose disappearing, fangs flashing, skin turning a dull grey. Jovan ran forward again, using the rifle as a battering ram he pushed the creature back, knocking over chairs in what was a rough approximation of a human lounge. The claws of the creature were slashing at him, but he kept the creature’s shoulders pinned back and so avoided the worst of it. Smashing it against the wall, the creature gasped as it was crushed, Jovan stood back, giving himself enough room to manoeuver, then he whipped out a silenced pistol form his left coat pocket and fired two rounds into the its chest, black blood hit the wall behind it as a third went straight into its left eye, and it slid to the floor leaving a track of slimy black blood on the wall.
Without turning, he dropped his pistol, ducked as a claw swung over his head from behind, he grabbed his rifle with both hands and in one smooth motion, swung the but back towards the other attacker, simultaneously depressing a button which caused a small blade to extend form the rear of the gun. It pierced the creature’s chest, adding to the pain in its shoulder but also keeping it at slightly greater than clawing distance from Jovan. Impaled on the blade, the creature tried to pull back but Jovan followed it, as it back peddled the blade stayed in its body until it crashed against the back wall.
It flung its claws around wildly but couldn’t defend itself, Jovan simply held onto the rifle, keeping it pinned.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘one last time, when is the shipment leaving?’ he counted to three and rotated the rifle ninety degrees, the creature shrieked. ‘When?’ He turned the rifle again, ‘when?’ and again. The creature began to whimper pathetically.
‘Tonight, after midnight, border opening.’
‘Ah, that explains it, thank you.’ Jovan turned on his heel, walked away from the creature, picked up his pistol, turned around and fired two shots into the creature’s head, it fell to the ground, dead. ‘Border opening, clever critters.’ He left the flat and walked back up the stairs into the street as the sun set in the distance.
‘Jovan, what the hell are you doing here?’ Will asked, smiling yet a little annoyed.
‘Just popped in to see you, thought you could use some help.’ The Serbian man smiled coolly, he looked as if nothing ever rattled him, such was the case for many men who had been through what he had been through.
‘Why the ruse? Why were you following me?’
‘Just a test my friend. You’re not quite yourself, I wanted to see how on the ball you were, as you say.’
‘What if I had found you, and attacked you?’
‘No chance, I’m too quick, this is my expertise after all.’
Will nodded, yes he knew that Jovan was the best of the best when it came to surveillance and intelligence gathering.
‘But what are you doing here?’ Chen asked stepping forward, his tone portraying his annoyance at Jovan’s behaviour.
‘Let’s go, we need to talk, the streets are not safe.’
Jovan lead them to a small dull looking old building, second floor was a small decrepit apartment. It was at least ten years past a need for a full renovation, in fact the building probably should have been pulled down.
‘Coffee?’ he asked.
‘Sure, not too strong,’ Will replied. He and Chen knew only too well that the Turkish style coffee he prefered was usually layered on thick.
He put the small coffee pot on the gas stove top, poured some water and heaped a few spoons inside.
‘The stained walls, the one dim bulb, the cracked plastic furniture, the lime green tabletop, it was 1960’s Soviet design, bad then, worse now.
‘Ok, so I guess you vant an explanation,’ Jovan said calmly, his thick Serbian accent giving a cutting edge to his syllables.
‘Yeah,’ Chen said shortly, ”testing us’ isn’t a good reason to stalk us.’
‘It is in dis case. Will I know about Derrick, and I know that you know it. I need to know one thing, are you ok with proceeding? Can you handle doing dis all over again?’
‘Sure,’ Will nodded, a frown creasing his forehead, ‘although I’m hoping it wont take me two years to get him again.’
‘Well, if we work together, I predict we’ll have him within a week.’
‘Yeah. You see, after you ‘killed’ him I learned through my contacts that not only was Derrick alive and well, but he had moved up here, taking control of some various bands of Nameless and their criminal elements. He recruited them and quickly built up a mini empire here in the north. He’s very efficient now, having got the structure right in the South, it’s a mini franchise really.’
‘Wait, back up, how did you know that Derrick was alive?’
‘I don’t reveal my contacts, not even to you. But if you were wondering, yes you killed a shapeshifter, a vedy skilled one.’
‘I figured,’ said Will, he was troubled though. He had surmised that there had been a decoy for him how else could they have done it? Yet Jovan’s secrecy was as always, an issue.
The two men had never been truly allies in the war against the Nameless. It was Will’s war, Jovan had his own group, they would go after whoever they deemed worthy of their attention. When crime gangs got too roudy, when government programmes became too destructive, but ultimately he was for hire, sometimes working for a government other times against it. On occasions, they had worked together against the Nameless, other times, Jovan wasn’t interested, he had other things to take care of.
‘Ok, so you’re with us on this one?’ Chen asked sceptically. Will knew that Chen didn’t entirely trust Jovan, he was one part older wiser brother, one part younger reckless brother and it was hard to know which he was going to be at any point, his stalking them just now being a prime example.
‘Up to as you say ‘the hilt’.
‘Right, but why didn’t you tell us about Derrick?’
‘I did, in a way. I saw to it that you received the information you needed which would lead you up to Lithuania, where I suspected he had recently moved, and here you are. You were a hard man to track down, you moved vedy quickly, but you gutted their organisation in the South. Upset some of my people on the way, but that is no matter. Point is, if I had told you outright that Derrick was alive, you wouldn’t have believed me, you needed to see him for yourself.
‘Now you are here, we are here, so let’s get to business.’ Jovan poured three cups of coffee in chipped ceramic cups and sat down by the window at a small fold out table with equally chipped chairs. Will joined him, Chen remained standing.
‘So,’ Jovan continued, ‘I have learned that there is a convoy of goods, Derrick’s goods moving to Latvia, they cross the border after midnight.’
‘What’s in the shipment?’
‘Same old stuff, weapons, some narcotics.’
‘What’s his purpose, where will this all end?’
‘I don’t know exactly,’ the Serbian said shaking his head sipping his coffee allowing the strong aroma to enter his nostrils. ‘That’s why we need to follow the trail, but he’s moving enough weapons to start a war, and that is troubling me. That’s why I left my cosy digs down in the South for the dull lights of the North. The amount of supplies he is moving is enough to destabilise the whole region, and that will have major effect throughout East Europe, that means my home as vwell, so I need your help to stop him.’
‘So that’s why you’re talking to us, not personal courtesy, you want our help.’ Chen said.
‘Why is not so important, as long as we work together, this will be bigger then either of us can handle alone,’ he said to Will, knowing that it was he who would ultimately make the decision.’
They sipped their coffee in silence for a moment before Will replied.
‘Ok, so he’s started a war, that’s bigger than anything he’s done before, thousands of lives are at stake am I right?’
‘At least,’ Jovan smiled, cool as ever.
‘Well, let’s get to work.’
Three shadows creeped up the wall and moved towards the light on the second floor window, their claws scraping against the glass and concrete as the moved. They stayed back so as to not alert their prey, they looked at each other, signalled silently, then they pounced.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2017