Ahead of the group was a checkpoint, much like Erkan recognized from airports and courthouses, except on a smaller scale. There was a hallway beyond the several armed guards. Mortimer nodded to the guards as he, Nico, and Erkan walked up. There was no one else in line, and the guards only took a quick look at the IDs of the three before passing them through as one of the guards logged something in a computer.
Erkan briefly wondered if they were all humans, as they appeared, but he couldn’t exactly check. He wasn’t sure if it was safe for him to use internal blood even if he had been full, and using magic in front of guards wasn’t the wisest idea. Sure, it was harmless, but in the time it took them to confirm that he could imagine all sorts of bad things happening.
They walked down the hall and turned a corner. “So…” Erkan asked, “When do we get to the Shadowlands?”
Mortimer’s thin face grinned, “We’re already here.”
“Eh?” Erkan blinked, “Aren’t we supposed to go through a magic portal or gate or something?”
Nico shook his head, “It’s not magic… exactly. You wouldn’t necessarily sense it.”
As they turned another corner, Erkan was certain they really were somewhere else. By this point they should have run into other corridors he had seen. They hadn’t gone up or down, and he had just seen it on the other side of the wall. Instead, there were just two turns in the corridor and… more guards. However, nobody was stopping them from moving through, though they were watched- and one guard did check a computer as the approached.
Then they passed a receptionist’s desk and were outside. They certainly hadn’t walked far enough to get outside the administration they had entered, so Erkan was convinced. The other point was that it was darker. It had already been night time… but there were fewer street lamps. The reason for that seemed to be… there was less street. However, that wasn’t the sole reason for lack of light. The other reason was that there were no stars. Looking up at the sky, there was just black. “Whoa. Weird.”
Mortimer nodded, “It’s strange, isn’t it? During the day, it turns to grey.”
The three walked down a few streets and suddenly found themselves outside of the city- or what little city there was. It was more like a handful of buildings. Erkan couldn’t really see them clearly, though.
Mortimer pulled out a pair of flashlights from his backpack. Seeing that Nico had a rucksack as well, Erkan wondered if he should have brought something… but he hadn’t exactly gotten any warning, nor did he have any idea what he would bring. Pig’s blood, maybe. Not that he could do any blood magic fast enough to deal with anything dangerous. “Is it safe here?”
The three of them were walking along an unpaved dirt road. Mortimer’s flashlight was powerful enough to light it clearly, so Erkan wasn’t worried about stumbling even without using the extra he’d been handed. However, beyond the flashlight there was just sharp darkness. Mortimer shrugged at Erkan’s question. “Near the government area it’s about as safe as your neighborhood at night.”
“… I was hospitalized twice last month.”
“I know.” There was silence for a few moments before Mortimer continued, “Don’t worry though, Nico is here. You’ll be safe.”
“What about you?”
“He’ll keep me safe too.”
Nico laughed, “Mortimer can take care of himself though.”
In the distance, Erkan heard the howling of wolves. He looked in that direction, but just saw more darkness. “Umm… should we be worried about that?”
Mortimer shook his head, “It’s likely just some werewolves out camping. They can’t exactly let loose anywhere else. It’s far too risky.”
Erkan tried to keep some light conversation going as they walked through the darkness, so he wouldn’t have to think about it too much. After over an hour of walking, they turned off the road for another hour. From what Erkan saw, there was just more dirt and scraggly little bushes. He couldn’t say whether he recognized them or not because of the poor lighting. Then Erkan smelled something.
“The ocean?” Erkan frowned, “I don’t hear waves though.”
“Correct on both accounts,” Mortimer nodded. He stopped for a moment and swept the flashlight around, stopping on a boulder. “Ah, this way.”
“Why would there be no waves?” Erkan asked.
“Why would there be waves?” Mortimer replied.
“Well… tides and stuff…” Erkan looked up at the sky, “Which are largely related to the moon.”
“Exactly. This isn’t Earth, after all.” The light reflected off of something shiny. Mortimer swept the light around again. “Looks right. Justin should be here to meet us soon.”
“He’s already here,” Nico said and pointed towards the water. Mortimer shone the flashlight on it, but it just appeared to be black with a smear of light on top. It wasn’t possible to see down into it. Then, suddenly, there was splashing as a figure rose out of the water.
“Aww, way to spoil it.” Erkan recognized Justin as he shook his wet hair. “How did you notice? I thought the salt would cover me up.”
Nico nodded, “The smell of salt is very strong… but you walked along the shore to get there. Your scent remained behind… so it wasn’t that long ago. Where’s Rosa?”
“Oh, she stayed behind. She’s not a fan of hiking. Nor the Shadowlands in general, but she does prefer to be here when people are after us elsewhere.” Justin turned to Erkan, “Oh, it’s my favorite human customer!” Justin grinned widely, showing his teeth… his sharp, pointed teeth that filled his whole mouth. The hands he held up had sharp nails at the ends… not quite claws. Erkan instinctively pulled back. “Haha! I forgot you never saw.”
“How did I not?” Erkan frowned. He thought back. Justin often wore a surgical mask. It was a bit odd, but hadn’t seemed out of place. Then again, he had seen Justin without his mask… and though he smiled, he never really showed his teeth. His hands, meanwhile, had been covered by perfectly sensible butcher’s gauntlets- as Erkan wouldn’t have wanted to slice a sharp knife next to his hand so much without some protection either.
“Wait a second…” Mortimer said, “I thought I was your favorite human customer?”
“Oh please. Maybe you were at first, but this last year I’ve seen you once a month, at best. Erkan here came by every week.” Justin turned back towards Erkan, grinning and clearly intentionally showing off as much teeth as he could. “So, how have things been?”
“Hmm… not exactly great.”
“Right… I heard about Vittore. Sorry about that. I’ll kill him for you later.”
“Ah… that’s not really necessary…” Erkan swallowed.
“Don’t worry, I insist.” Justin looked at Nico, “It’s fine, right, Mr. Officer?”
Nico rolled his eyes, “According to our laws, you are free to resolve your conflicts with violence. You got on pretty thin ice with those humans, though.”
“Pfft, what was I supposed to do, call the cops?”
“Well, be happy that I shortened the investigation time, if they would have even done anything.”
“You know we would have investigated… especially to avoid humans being killed. They just happened to work for vampires, otherwise we would have had to deal with you.”
“Haha! Lucky me!” Justin’s grin was both jovial and terrifying. “Now then… let’s get down to business.”