Standing in Penn Station, Emmerick found himself relatively underwhelmed by the stocky figure that stood politely waiting his turn at the Amtrak ticket office. He knew he shouldn’t judge; near-immortals came in every color, creed, height, weight, and disposition. He’d once been waylaid in Tokyo by what could be best described as a nymph. 4’8” and barely weighing seventy pounds soaking wet, he’d finally dragged her out of the bay like the night’s catch many hours after he’d begun his endeavor, with many scars to mark the encounter.

But this guy, this Elba, purported to be the original of the Wilklas, was 5’8” with his work boots, and while he had the build of a laborer and could probably handle his own in a bar fight, Emmerick had envisioned more boogey man than everyman when Aubry had described his quarry.

Emmerick rubbed his arm where his tattoo should be, sighing to himself. He wasn’t up for this and he knew it. His thoughts kept tumbling over the years he’d wasted holding a flame for a petulant child, years killing vampire spawn whenever and wherever he found them for what amounted to an insane mommy-daddy issue, years tracking and hunting based on a lie that he’d too easily believed.

He was ashamed and tired, so very tired. Not physically; whatever Aubry had shared with him had supercharged him like a battery to the point where his fingertips felt like they would spark. But without the glory of righteous purpose, the years of homelessness, the pressure of unremembered lifetimes, and the very weight of this modern world felt like a vice of iron around his chest constricting him slowly. He wasn’t blind to struggles of modern humanity. He just didn’t give a shit. What did it matter when a tide of undead could rise up like the Black Death and swallow society whole. He’d stood in the middle of it several times and fought it back, most recently following a bottle of wine in Seville.

But it never ended, always there was a struggle, a battle, and around him these sleeping humans who knew nothing, wanted to know nothing. Why should he continue to fight for them, the very same that banished him from his village for speaking his truth? He could recall the dead, lives long lost, stories from old, past down from their fathers and when they still didn’t believe, he showed them what remained below the surface: the well, the horde, and the bodies.  He had brought the shaman down, the holy man, for lying to his people, for trading their ancestral wealth for money in his pocket.  And they had then turned on him, blaming his witchery for leading to the shaman’s downfall.  

They had given him a choice at least: leave or they would stone his sisters and mother. He grimaced in memorial; there was never a choice at all. In a tribe that valued the spirits of the land, communicated with the spirits of the dead to know the way forward, he had still become a pariah. They didn’t want to hear the true voice of their elders: they wanted to speak in their name.

He shook his head and refocused on the Wiklas, as he stepped up to the ticket window. From his current vantage, he had a clear line of sight to lipread what the agent said and this particular one always repeated the destination and the time on the ticket she was issuing.

But he doubted what he read as the destination and had to do a search on his cell phone. The first word made no sense so he expected the search to work phonetically but the location came right up. It was in the middle of nowhere. Well, a helluva a long way short of Seattle. He glanced up at one of the route maps mounted on the wall beside him and had to suppress an urge to shake his head.

The Wiklas thanked the agent and turned just as Emmerick dropped his head into his book. While A Tale of Two Cities was a good read, it was the sketched notes from the thumb drive that interested Emmerick. The abridged life and times of one Sophie Quinn. He let the Wiklas continue to his gate while he scanned, knowing he would catch up before the train departed in 20 minutes.

Something about “Ohio” caught his attention. What he read set him to his feet, clamoring after the wolf and nearly knocking over a young Namibian woman in her long voluminous dress and headdress. He had to use his considerable agility to keep both of them on their feet, his hand on her upper arm steading them both.

She at first twisted away from him, a baby in her arms and two small children holding onto her dress. He was about to apologize when she looked up into his face. Her eyes widened and she reached out to him.


Then she began to plead with him in a language he hadn’t heard in a very very long time. Her bus had been delayed, she and her children had missed their connection, and the agent would not refund her money to buy new tickets. Worse, she had very little English and no way to contact her husband. All the forces that had conspired to move her family halfway across the world for the hope of a better future had seemed to desert her.  They were causing quite the scene and even the Wiklas paused and turned an ear towards the drama.

Emmerick found himself answering her pleas, praising her strength and telling her all would be well. “My name is Baka. I will help you.”

He found himself leading her to the agent’s window, her clutching his arm where the flesh throbbed as if his tattoo had been awakened. He saw out of a corner of his eye the Wiklas shrug and continue towards his gate.

The black agent looked suspiciously from him to the traditionally dressed woman clutching his arm. He patted her hand, inquired about her destination, and told her it would all be alright before turning back to the ticket agent.

She let him talk for a minute before she called him out. “Sir, in English?”

He blinked. He hadn’t even realized he’d speaking another language. He cleared his throat. “Uh, sorry, yes.” Struggled to settle on an American accent, closer to this region. He proceeded to get the family tickets to Columbus where her husband had previously been studying before finding a way to get the whole family transplanted.

He waited with them, watching the time tick by on a large wall clock for an hour until it was time to board their train, even finding a traveling pastor that would keep an eye out for them once they got to Columbus.  The mother didn’t repeat her title for him but he saw it in her face and it fired something in his long-dead heart. She had seen right through him, to the man he was and the place he had come from. He wished them well and watched with a pang as the youngest daughter waved goodbye.

The Wiklas was long gone, his train departing half an hour before, as Emmerick strode out of the station, hand over his arm feeling the long-gone tattoo pulsing just below the white of his skin. He would rent a car and get there twice as fast. The last hour of his life had given him a jolt of the past familiar, a taste of a home he’d lost, and a resolution for what he now knew he raced to protection.

According to Aubrey’s intel, Ohio was where Sophie Quinn had grown up, married the quarterback of her high school’s football team, and started a family.  Sophie had apparently been attacked by unknown vampire assailants a year ago after miscarrying a child. Aubrey suspected at the time but now was certain that it had been Bellecroix taking her revenge. And now Bellecroix was sending the Wiklas to finish the job of ending Sophie’s human family, which consisted of an ex-husband and a little girl living on a farm, likely oblivious to the danger coming to end them.

As Emmerick finally cleared the city, setting his rental SUV at top legal speed, he tried to set aside the dread and focus on his quarry. But all he could manage to visualize was the face of the little African girl, waving goodbye, and her mother’s face as she gripped his arm and called to the ancient spirit within him. It was as if the mother feared in that moment not for herself or her family, but for another further away that needed his help even more.

A twelve-year-old daughter named Jasmine living in a town called Defiance. And Emmerick, with a resurgent sense of familial outrage and rediscovered purpose, couldn’t get there fast enough.

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