Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Once my patrol hits the street, I peel off to scout ahead. I tell Justin that there's something weird on the wind tonight, that I'll check things out and be back with them inside of fifteen minutes. I tell him where I'll be - in the general vicinity, anyway - and I shift to bat form while he leads the patrol off on their regular rounds.

I head up high - all the better to see you, m'dear - and ghost along the streets, looking for anything weird. I'd told Justin nothing less than the truth; there's something out there tonight, something that makes my skin feel like every separate hair is standing on end - and in bat form, that's a lot of hair.

I don't learn much beyond the fact that Exton is like pretty much everywhere else when it comes to nightlife, and that being supernatural doesn't exempt you from drunkenness, loneliness, horniness, or any of the hundred other faults we think are exclusive to humanity.

Then something kicks my nervous system into high gear, something I can't see, only feel. I circle for a bit till I get an idea of the direction, then follow the feeling.

It leads me to two figures standing huddled in a dark alley, their voices too low for bat-senses to pick up. I move closer… and then I feel the rage fighting to rip loose. One of the dark figures is my old friend Rath, and the other is something just as nasty.

I glide to a nearby church, and there I shift back to man-shape, standing on a third-story ledge just around the corner from the alley. I pluck my cell from my pocket and dial Tori at the Tavern. It takes her a minute or two to pick up, so long I'm afraid I'm going to get her voice mail instead; but then I hear her warm tones and I relax a bit.

"This is Nick." My voice is just above a whisper. "I'm at a church, corner of Sixth and Elm. There's an alley around the corner from my position, and Rath is there, talking to someone who doesn't have a heartbeat. Yeah, it's pretty dark… No, I'm on the third floor, I don't think they noticed. I'll wait right here. Can you call Justin and tell him I'm okay? Okay, look for the bat when you come. Later."

I click the cell closed and pocket it, then resume bat form and take another peek around the corner. They're still there and I yield to the temptation to get closer, to see if I can pick out what they're saying.

The guy Rath is talking to looks like anyone; average height, average build, medium-brown hair, brown eyes, average average average. He wears jeans and a short-sleeve knit shirt, walking shoes on his feet. I take a chance and move in closer, listening with all my ears….

Just like that, they're gone, not a trace of them. What the hell…?

The question is answered when I'm slapped away like a mosquito. I tumble through the air, chittering with rage - and another bat slams into me, arresting my fall but knocking me head-over-heels before I can get my bearings. Rath!

Rath is the least of my worries….

It looms up out of the darkness, huge and monstrous, looking big as a pterodactlyl but not nearly as cuddly. It's a vulture of some kind, the kind with an attitude. "Patience my ass… I'm gonna go out and kill something!"

Looks like I'm elected….

He's bigger than me, stronger, more powerful, and my little bat claws and teeth are nothing compared to his beak and talons. He slaps at me with a wing and it feels like I've been hit with a twenty-pound frozen turkey. I pull up just clear of the cold hard ground and head back up, pissed as all hell and not caring that Rodan up there outweighs me by about a ton and a half. Suddenly there's a scream in my ears and Rath dive-bombs me again, savaging me with teeth and claws.

This is more like it.

I turn on the bastard and do my damnedest to kick his goddamn teeth down his throat. No good. He's more experienced in this form; he evades me easily and proceeds to kick the living shit out of me.

This is so not good….

Faced with Rath and the Frozen Turkey from Hell, I choose the better part of valor and run like hell.

They pursue.

I have some vague idea of trying to make for a ledge where I can shift back to man-form and summon Johnny, but they're not giving me that kind of leisure. I zigzag back and forth, looking for a place to turn and fight and thinking that this time I might have bitten off more than I can chew….

There's a sound like I've never heard before, something like a hiss mated with a scream, and something that looks vaguely like a dragon, but with a long, serpentine neck, rockets past me. Buster screeches to a halt like something from a Looney Tunes cartoon, and if a buzzard can look panicked, I saw it on his face. In an instant he turns and flies for his life, tail-feathers between his legs. Of Rath the Flying Rat there's no sign and I make my shaky way back to the ground and shift back to Nick.

A second later, the dragon-thing is there too, and then it melts and shifts back to Tori. She has a big grin on her face. "Hey, sailor," she says saucily. "Want some company?" She dusts her hands together briskly and buzzard-down sifts from between them….

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