I pelted down the wooded path, hearing the inhuman screams coming from behind me. I turned and aimed my rod, spoke a word, and a single bolt of coherent fire flashed downrange, catching the flabby bat-like creature in the chest as it screamed after me; it burst into flames, a clean hole through its chest.
"Bob, where's that exit?" I bellowed, turning back to watch the path, letting my ears track the approaching vampires; at least 6 of them. Two, or three, I probably could have handled; 6 was too many at one time, especially in this place. They were stronger here.
"Not yet, sahib. Don't think you're going to make it!" I heard, muffled from the backpack surrounding the skull.
I passed another stone dolmen on the right, then on the left; I could hear the vamps approaching, screaming again in their hideous voices.
Suddenly I caught a glint of metal, and a door on the right was yawning open, metal-framed with a strange grid pattern extending out on each side of it. I pushed my staff into the opening and tore an opening with a whispered "Aparturum," and threw myself through the hole just as the closest vampire jumped at my back.
I felt the weight hit me, and bucked up from the ground, rolling quickly and bringing my right fist to bear, shaking out the bracelet on my left. The argent gleam of the shield caught the creature's first hammering blow, and with a screamed "Forzare!" I forced the fist up into the creature's face, triggering off the rings on that hand.
Its head simply ceased to exist, and the rest of the creature was flung away at great velocity, hitting a metal railing and falling limply to the ground.
"Hells bells," I gasped, letting my head fall back to the ground after checking to see that the Way had closed behind me. I fought for breath; although I had been running for sport for several years, it seemed that running for my life never got much easier, especially when the things following you had no need for practice to run as fast as they wanted.
"Juh Shi Suh Mo Go Dohng Shee?" I heard, as somebody yelled across the expanse of the large room I found myself in. I rolled over slowly, and looked up; in the relative darkness of the room, I could see a man haloed by the nightlights in the hallway behind him, hand extended and holding a gun of some shape. I stood slowly, holding my hands up. Where the hell was I?
The walls were covered in the same diagonal grid I had seen on either side of the Way; the floor was a hard metal grating. Crates and metal boxes were secured by nets and tiedowns, all along the posts on both sides of me; the man pointing his gun at me stood on the second level, on a series of catwalks that seemed to criss-cross over the ground. I looked up, and saw a strange-looking vehicle chained to a winch on the ceiling, also made of metal.
"Uh, hello there." I ventured, wondering if this man spoke English.
"Who are you and how the hell did you get on my boat?" the man drawled, speaking with what sounded like a Texas accent.
I could hear running feet behind him, and a burly, tall man with a goatee appeared, wearing a hastily donned shirt and cargo pants; a complicated, impressive-looking gun was held easily in his hands.
"To be honest, I couldn't tell ya." I snarked, wondering just how in the hell I had gotten on board this...boat? I didn't feel any movement beneath my feet, normally indicative of sea motion.
"Yer gonna start makin' sense, huen dahn." the bigger man rumbled, his voice dark and forboding.
"When I do, you'll be the first to know." my mouth said, not bothering to check with my brain first. The man snarled, and raised his gun; the slightly shorter man next to him, the first to challenge me in this room, held up a hand and held the gun back. "Hold up, Jayne. Might be he's tellin' th' truth; he sure don't look like he knows where he is."
"We been out in the Black for 2 days, Mal. Where th' guai'd he come from? Could be he came in like that huen dahn Early."
"Sorry, I don't ever get anywhere early." my mouth said again, rebelling against my common sense. "I do arrive when I mean to though."
The back-lit man who had first seen me snorted, and I saw amusement in his eyes, before I averted them quickly. No sense in getting into a soulgaze with this stranger.
He began climbing down the catwalks via a few staircases, and walked closer to me, piece still trained on me but no longer held tense in his hand.
"What's your name?" he asked, more calmly.
"Well, I'm Captain Malcolm Reynolds, and this is my ship, Serenity. Your little appearing act has us all kinds of stumped, and I'm hopin' ya can shed a little light on the subject."
"I could explain how I got here, Captain. The truth is, though, you probably wouldn't believe me, and it would take a little explaining no matter what. And even then, you'd probably think I'm crazy."
"We already got one feng le on the boat, we gonna take in another, Cap'n?" the big man (Jane?) whined.
"Bi zui. Let's figure all this out afore decidin' anything. First off, Mister, you got any weapons on you? Don't reach for 'em, just tell me where."
"I've got a revolver in the front right pocket."
He reached deftly into my duster pocket, and pulled out the .44 hand cannon I habitually carried with me when I was out on a case. He smirked, and put the barrel through his belt, motioning me to follow. He frisked me the rest of the way, feeling for other weapons; surprisingly, he didn't question or note the blasting rod tied to the inside of my duster, or the staff laying on the ground nearby. He stopped for a moment, remembering the body he'd seen get tossed on the ground; he took a quick peek at it, and his eyes widened. He reached for a panel on the wall, and yelled "Doc, need you in the bay right now!"
About 30 seconds later, a tall, dark-haired young man rushed into the bay, holding a medical bag of some kind. He was in an advanced state of undress, wearing what looked like sleep pants and a hastily-pulled on shirt. "What happened, Mal?" His eyes widened as he saw me; I have that impression on people.
"It's not any of us, least I don't think this fella's hurt. You get hit any by that...thing over there?"
I did a quick check over myself, and noticed that my left wrist was scratched; not deep, or life threatening, but it looked like a claw from the vampire had hit my duster and slid off, marking me.
"Just the left wrist."
"Fine, looks like this is yer first patient, Doc. Leave the body for later."
"Let's get to the infirmary then." the doctor said resignedly, giving me the impression that some stranger appearing on board their ship in the middle of the night was not an altogether uncommon occurrence.
Mal Reynolds still held the gun on the extremely tall man who'd appeared out of nowhere; this Dresden fella is a mite peculiar, he decided, noticing the bracelet of metallic shields on his wrist, the amulet at his neck (a pentacle? Wasn't that the symbol of witchcraft?), and a number of other strange inconsistencies; chief among them was his appearance on his boat with no explanation as to how he got here.
The doc seemed to take it in stride, though; he checked the small laceration on the fella's wrist, while the man looked a bit bored. Mal decided that he'd been on a doctor's table often enough, and suddenly felt a strong kinship to him. With the heavy leather duster off, the fella looked a bit spindlier than he'd appeared in the bay. His dark, slightly shaggy black hair and the myriad visible scars on his body spoke of a man of action, while the unusual accoutrements (the pentacle, the bracelet, the black leather glove covering the left hand) spoke of his oddity.
Simon had begun examining the gloved hand, asking the stranger "Do you mind?"
"Might be a bit shocking to you, doc. I've lived with it for years, but it's not a pretty sight." he murmured, peeling off the glove; Simon's face was impassive, but in truth it was not at all a pleasant sight. Mal'd seen third degree burns before, and this hand looked like it had been dipped in molten sodium, then had inexplicably actually healed, even maintaining neurological response.
"I'm surprised you've kept this hand; I would have imagined your surgeon would have removed it due to the damage."
"It's mine." was the terse response, with a twinkle of humor.
"Well, it appears to be healing quite well. How long ago was it burnt, 10 or 15 years ago?"
"Uh..." it appeared that the stranger was counting back. "3 years ago now?"
"Hmm. Fast healer then." the doctor murmured, smirking at Mal.
"So, Captain. I can't help but notice that you don't seem particularly surprised at a stranger showing up on your ship uninvited; does this happen often?"
"More than you'd suspect." Mal smirked. "Always terribly strange folk though. The number of times we've had somebody show up in a box is more than one, and one's already unusual enough." Simon's eyes flashed a warning at the reference.
"Well, Mr. Dresden, it looks like you should be fine. I've cleaned out the laceration, and put a weave on it. Not much more to do but let it heal. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got another 'patient' to examine."
"It's dead." Dresden said, a hard edge on his voice. Simon shot him a look, then strode out into the bay.
"So you admit to murdering him?" Mal needled, wanting to see a response.
"It's not murder to kill a thing like that; it's justice." Dresden fired back, eyes igniting in a dangerous light.
"I can understand that notion. Met plenty of my own monsters afore." Mal said. Dresden looked at him cockeyed, then looked away; he seemed reluctant to meet Mal's eyes.
Mal looked over at the infirmary window. He saw River there, staring intently into the room. He gave a little beckon, and she drifted into the room, wearing some sort of nightshirt.
"Hello there." Dresden said, seemingly surprised to see this little wisp of a girl on what seemed to be a rough and tumble freighter of some kind.
Wonder why I'm not feeling any sea motion; even Lake Michigan is rougher than this.
The girl looked right at me, and whispered "It's not a lake we sail on, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden."
I started at the full name; nobody had that full name, not even Chauncy. She'd even used the correct inflections, like she'd dug it right out of my...
I hurriedly checked my memory, to see if anything was out of place; surprisingly, nothing more than usual. I had gotten on the Way to travel to San Antonio to meet with one of the Wardens, got a bit turned around, then ended up on this ship; must have been an ocean freighter.
"I see you've got a witch on board. I should have guessed from how nonchalant you were about the vampire I took out in your cargo bay."
The man's eyes hardened, and he seemed to be turning on some altogether new personality. "Who says she's a witch?" he grated. Then he seemed to realize what the second thing I'd said was. "Vampire?" he whispered.
"Come on, she's obviously a witch. Talented enough, if you could get through my psychic defenses and pick out my full freaking name."
"I know more than that, Oh Wise One. I see He Who Walks Behind in your shadow. I see pain and loss and fear. I see guilt and regret, for somebody named Susan. I see the Cold Lady's favors haunting your trail." Her voice took on a sing-song quality, and her eyes suddenly looked a thousand years older.
I was silenced for a moment, no small feat, as most of my friends and all of my enemies would attest to.
"Mr. Dresden, this is River." Mal said, smirking somewhat; he seemed pleased that someone'd shut me up for the first time.
"Okay, I'm officially creeped out now."
"She can be a might creepifyin', iffin she wants ta be." Mal drawled again, a laugh on his face.
Simon returned now, frowning at seeing River here in the room with this stranger. "It's nothing I've ever seen before, Captain. Body's already starting to decay slightly, but...I don't think I could even put a classification on it."
"That's because it's a Vampire, not a human, doc." I said, sliding off the table to my feet.
"Jien tah duh guay." the doctor said, face angry.
"Uh, sorry. What did you say?" I asked, confused; I wished for a brief moment that Lash still haunted my mind, because she would certainly have been able to translate for me. For you, my host. the voice echoed again in my head, and I heard the words spoken as in English; "Like hell!" I must have stood there with a blank look on my face for a little while, as I suddenly began to worry about the fact that Lash had apparently survived; when I came to myself again, they were staring at me expectantly.
"The shadow of the past returns. Fallen from grace, given new life and a name." River murmured, obviously picking up on my concern about Lash.
"I said, are you feeling alright, Mr. Dresden? I've got a whole crew 'bout to fall down asleep. You conjure you can hit the sack, then maybe we can talk in the morning to figure out what ta do?"
"Sleep is god." I smirked. Mal only laughed, then walked out, saying something to his burly crew member (Huh, Jane is a girl's name, isn't it?). River grinned at me. I Listened, and heard "Put him in Book's room. Lock the door behind him, we'll get him for breakfast. Hopefully he's willing to talk a bit."
The burly man leaned into the room and hooked a finger at me and pointed towards one of the rooms. The door was open, and it was dark; he hit a light switch, then closed and locked the door behind me.
"Well. Isn't this peachy."
"You'd prefer to be back fighting the Vampires?" Bob said cheerily from my backpack.
"Can't honestly say. Something about all this seems off. This feel like a ship to you?"
"Not getting any wave motion." Bob murmured, as the skull rotated slowly, scanning the room. "Say, this couldn't just be a transport ship." he said, eyes suddenly narrowing. "We're in a threshold. Pretty big one, too. You tried anything magical?"
"You wanna run that by me again? I didn't think thresholds formed around what is essentially a place of business."
"Then this place must be a transport ship, and also home."
"Hmm." I murmured, then tried to get some sleep. The clock mounted on the wall read 3:30 am when I finally drifted off.
Kaylee was ecstatic about having somebody new aboard when Mal announced it before breakfast.
"Mei mei, it's not like we took on a passenger. This guy either stowed away and hid for 2 days, or he came in by ship and didn't trigger any of our proxy alarms. Either way, I ain't all-fired happy about him bein' on my boat."
"Still Cap'n, it's always shiny meetin' new folk."
"Ain't always been." I said, intentionally pushing on the thought of Early; her cheery demeanor immediately dimmed a bit, and she appeared more subdued.
"Xie xie, Cap'n."
"Jayne, go get our new guest and bring up him. Like ta talk with him a bit."
The knock on the door was loud and rambunctious, and woke me out of a deep sleep.
"Hold on, hold on, I'm comin'."
"Hurry up, or there won't be no grub left." the man groused.
"Alright." I said, as he opened the door, finding me still in the clothes I had worn. I had my duster over my arm; it was a bit warm to wear it here.
"Go on up those stairs, then turn left." he said, waiting for me to go first.
I followed his directions, and stepped into what looked like a bright and cheery galley; there were 6 people sitting around the table or bringing something to it; with the big man behind me, that made 7.
"Hello there. Guess I didn't meet everyone last night; name is Harry Dresden. I'm a private investigator in Chicago, Illinois."
I saw the confusion on their faces; not about the name, but about Chicago. "You know, the Windy City?"
"What does wind have to do with it?" asked the big man that had escorted me up, taking his seat at the table.
"It's just a nickname. Uh, how do you not know where Chicago is?"
I saw the name finally gain some recognition, in a woman with curly dark brown hair and creamy skin; she wore a fancy-looking silk dress and what looked like an asian-styled robe.
"Chicago, Ilinois. In the United States of America."
"Yea. You all speak English, so we can't be far from-"
I fell silent again; was I losing my touch?
"What do you mean, Earth that was?" I groused, voice cracking just a bit.
"What was the date before you arrived here?"
"Well, the Way I came in by was..." I gave the day's date.
"Well, the date today, according to the ship's chronometer, is April 25th, 2519."
"And we're 24 hours and 30 minutes from Whitefall, a moon in the Georgia system."
I wavered on my feet for a moment, glad that somebody shoved a chair behind me; I collapsed onto it, trying to wrap my head around the concept.
"That's a violation of the 6th Law." I finally managed to squeak out.
"The 6th Law of what?" asked Jayne, the big burly man.
I sighed; couldn't get any worse than it was.
River smirked, while the rest just looked dumbfounded.
I realized I'd have to start from the beginning.