The sun hung red in the sky and all around him the more superstitious people of the city scurried for home. Already, the glow of the ward-lamps were coming on and in about an hour or so the electric glow of the street lights would join those blue balls of energy. Tehera didn't like to be out after dark. It came from growing up in the countryside where there were no carefully etched paths in which the energies of the world was to travel and no protective areas of blue light in case something did go bad in the night. She told him in college that she remembered nights where the screams of lambs filled the night and her dad sat downstairs with a shotgun, waiting for sunrise. Nothing had ever touched the house, of course, modern architecture was too carefully planned to allow negative energies inside, but the fields that surrounded her home was a different story. And so she, like many others, refused to remain outside after dark.
Marton was a city-boy though. The only thing he usually worried about after sunset were muggers and ordinary, human criminals. The supernatural was contained within a city.
Tehera met him at the corner street of the restaurant they had gone to. Her date was nowhere to be seen.
"He wanted to go dancing at one of the clubs," she said, "God. I told him I didn't want to be out that late, that dusk was pushing it, but he just called my fears silly."
The great thing about Tehera was her sense of importance. In her mind, if a man wasn't willing to make accommodations for her, he wasn't worth it. While some people would call that arrogance Marton and her called it intelligence.
"That and you know the stories about clubs! Those places attract supernatural like moths to light."
Marton wanted to correct her, explain that he'd been to plenty and the only ones that made it on the nightly news were the ones that didn't put the money into sound wards. But she was on a roll; it was best not to disturb her. So instead he shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and started walking alongside her towards her apartment.
The sky broke into a downpour when they were about halfway there. There was little warning, just one moment a few cold drops fell on their heads, and the next minute the blazing red sky was filled with the roar of a sudden spring shower. Cursing, Marton and Tehera made for the nearest shelter. A bar glowed invitingly, lights warm and yellow with none of the usual florescent typical of the area. They burst in through the door, laughing and panting, and Tehera shook her hair out. Marton glanced around. A bunch of people was gathered around tables and the bar, some wet, some dry. He made his way over to the bar where a set of about four stools sat empty.
"Scuse me," he said to the bartender, "got caught in the shower. You have a payphone?"
"Yeah, but Jim's using it right now," he said and jerked his head back towards a corner, "You'll have to wait. Want a drink in the meantime?"
Marton excused himself and walked back over to Tehera. She was slightly pale as she watched the sun sink lower in the sky.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I'll call a cab here but we'll probably be getting home after dark. Here, come have a drink or something. It'll be all right, I promise. I'm a city-boy after all."
She nodded reluctantly and walked over to the bar. Ordered some girly drink and Marton settled in next to her, one eye on the man at the payphone. He was laughing and with a sinking heart Marton figured that this would not be a short call. So he turned his attention to the bar around him. There were mostly men and the more he looked the fuller it seemed to be. The architecture was quaint, like it had been designed to resemble a more traditional tavern, from England perhaps. The lamps were modeled like gas lamps and wooden rafters hung low over their heads.
"Tehera," he said suddenly, grabbing her wrist before she could take a drink, "Don't touch that."
She set the glass down and gazed at the room. Her face went chalk-white.
"Right," he said, "I think we'd be safer on the streets."
There were no wards. Anywhere. None. The two slowly stood and walked towards the door. By now the sun was gone and the night outside was completely dark. Neither could hear the rain and that only made the sickly taste of fear even worse. They had almost made it when a horrible roar stopped them short. Tehera sobbed once – it was the sound she remembered from when the lambs died, so many years ago on a dark night in the countryside.
The bartender had doubled over and was changing. Growing taller, stronger, and fur rippled out across his body. His hands grew thick and clawed, his neck grew wide and his head sloped into a heavily browed snout with small eyes. Tusks appeared on either side of the muzzle. Marton watched in horrible fascination as the other patrons joined him in the transformation, one by one falling to the ground and filling the air with bestial growls.
"Wayrs!" Tehera gasped.
She seized Marton's wrist and kicked the door open. Outside, the street was deserted of everything – light, people, even rain. Marton made to run out there but Tehera yanked him in the other direction, to a corner of the room. She leapt up onto a table and with another hop vanished into the rafters. Marton followed, praying that she knew what she was doing.
The beams were barely wide enough for one person and he balanced there on hands and knees while Tehera pulled a pocketknife out of her purse and started carving at the intersection of the beams. Below them, a couple of the newly transformed wayrs were looking around with their squinty eyes and sniffing the air.
"This place is structurally sound," Tehera whispered, "it just lacks the wards. There."
She finished the mark and a blue light flashed out across the beams and onto every other interconnecting one.
"The rafters are safe for a time. They've got bad eyesight, smell, and hearing. Hopefully they'll think we went outside and search for us there."
Tehera rarely talked about it but she was a fount of information on the supernatural. Growing up afraid had driven her to understand her fears and so she had devoured countless sources, even memorizing many of the wards although she was not a wardist herself. They were good enough to hold for a space of an hour or so, but no more.
Below them, the entire inn was transformed. The pack sniffed around, pawed at broken drinks, and then one by one picked up weapons – both makeshift and real. The bartender was the biggest of them and seemed to be their leader. He looked at the open door, bellowed something in the strange grunts and roars of the wayrs, and the group charged en masse outside into the street.
"The city!" Marton swore, "We've got to call the police."
"I don't think that's going to make a difference," Tehera said. "Didn't you feel the change in air? There's no one out there to be in danger, Marton. It's just us and wayrs."
She slipped down from the beam and landed on a table. He followed suit.
"Does this place have a basement?" she said.
Marton didn't know but he helped her look for it. They found the staircase in under a minute. Tehera went first with a pen-flashlight from her purse. About halfway down the stairs she stopped and turned.
"Back," she said, a note of real panic in her voice, "back up. Go, FASTER Marton!"
She fairly slammed the door behind her. Every muscle in her was shaking and Marton doubted her face could be any whiter.
"There's wards down there," she said breathlessly, "and not the good kind either. The ones that reek of blood and glow red."
That was all the explanation it took. Marton led her out of the bar, easing out the door first and checking for wayrs before making a run for the nearest alleyway. They'd have to find somewhere safe to hole up in until sunup.
There was no other sign of life in the city. There weren't even the electrical lights visible – just foggy darkness and blank deserted skyscrapers. It was like they had been taken outside of the real world and the more to the two of them walked, dodging the prowling wayrs, the more they began to think that this was the case. Neither said so out loud.
Marton had been looking for a bolthole for the past hour when he realized he'd just made a horrible mistake. They'd gone down an alleyway at the sound of heavy footsteps and animal snorts only to come to a dead-end. And now the shadows of the wayrs were at the gap between buildings. Marton edged in front of Tehera and picked up the nearest stick of wood.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
There was the sound of something large descending from above them, a gust of air, and then a voice – human – calling to them.
And without thinking Marton grabbed Tehera and hoisted her up, so that their rescuer grabbed her arms. He pulled the woman up onto the fire escape platform and then reached down again for Marton, hauling him up. Then all three turned and ran, up the stairs towards the roof. Beneath them, the wayrs came running, skidded short, and brayed in anger.
"They may figure out how to follow us," their rescuer said, "so let's move fast."
"Sir," Tehera said quietly, "you're an angel. Aren't you?"
The man shot them a glance over his wings, barely visible between the large white wings that sprouted from his shoulderblades.
"Explanations later. Just follow."
He led them to the roof and then hoisted Tehera in his arms and flew her across the gap over the street to the next rooftop. He did the same for Marton and repeated this several times before leading them down another fire escape and in through a window. The flat they stopped in was barren of furniture, people, and light. The angel dropped something on the ground and blue ward-light blossomed, enough so that the room was illuminated.
"Names, if you will," he said calmly.
"I'm Marton and this is my friend Tehera. Can you tell us where we're at?"
"I'm David," the angel replied, "and to answer your earlier question, miss, I'm not an angel. In this realm I am angelic in nature, but outside I'm just an ordinary human." He sounded wistful.
"This realm changes people," Tehera said.
"Clever. Yes. You came in through the tavern I assume?"
They both nodded.
"Alright, sit down, this is a bit of a story. Ages ago, before people learned the science of controlling the energy of the earth, mistakes were made and places went 'bad.' Some were even corrupted intentionally. The tavern is a memory of one of these places. It started out stable – if you noticed the rafters the architecture is sound – but eventually, by degrees, someone corrupted it until the place was a vortex of negative energy."
"Anyways, the place eventually burned to the ground along with the rest of the town and it was resettled years later and this city evolved out of it. Well, the earth remembers what happened and that tavern is still around, although outside of time and space as we remember it.
Anyone who is caught up by that tavern is bound to return there each night and each night be transformed into a wayr, hunting out any other poor souls that were drug into this dimension as well and either killing or binding them to the tavern as well. I was one of the ones caught, many years ago. I managed to hide from the wayrs all night and in the morning was returned to our world. I suppose I could have left it alone… but that's not how I am."
"I'm a police officer. Well, a pilot more like. I fly the helicopter – surely you've seen it, right? Anyways, I reported all this to my superiors and we hunted for weeks for the tavern. Eventually we found more people that had been sucked in and a pattern started forming. The tavern can't be found except by chance and by those who have already been there. Bringing a police force or a wardist against it isn't going to work. So we have to use people who have been to this dimension and can return to it at will. Those that are bound to become wayrs have no memory of what happens during the night. Those, like myself, that escape can act freely and will eventually change in accordance to the nature of their soul. We have one lady with us who transforms into a unicorn. I believe she's leading the wayrs in a merry goose chase as we speak, to give us a bit of a breather."
Tehera and Marton looked at each other.
"And if you die in this realm?" Tehera asked quietly.
"In the morning the wayrs return to the tavern, change back, and quietly go home and wake with no memory. The rest of us appear in the real world, wherever we're at, in whatever state we're in. So yes, if you die, your body will appear somewhere in this city in the morning stone dead."
Marton glanced over at Tehera, and then at David.
"You want us to help you."
"We do need help. Keeping people away from the wayrs is difficult and we're still trying to unravel what started this and how to stop it. It's dangerous but not as bad as you'd think. There's weeks where I all I do is sit on a rooftop and watch the wayrs roam around. However, I can understand if you don't want to get involved. You're civilians. I'm not going to ask for a decision. Just, if you want to help, show up at the tavern again before sundown. We slip out as the sun starts to set and before the wayrs transform."
He stood and offered Tehera his hand.
"It's almost dawn. We need to get back on the streets before the sun comes up or we'll wind up in someone's apartment."
"That's always exciting to explain, let me tell you."
From the window the three could see a small trickle of wayrs walking like a string of ants through the streets.
"How many are there?" she whispered.
"A lot. I think the tavern exists in multiple places at once. C'mon, let's hit the fire escape."
And the three slipped out of the building and into the streets as the sun broke over the gray horizon.
Marton walked Tehera home as the city started to come alive. The ward-lights were out, as were the electrical ones, and David had hailed a cab and headed for the police station to make a report. He promised that they would not be contacted except for information about what they had experienced. Whether or not they returned would be up to them.
They both called off work that day. For one thing, neither had any sleep. Marton slept on Tehera's sofa and when he woke around noon, Tehera was on the floor by him.
"Nightmares," she said sleepily when he reached down and touched her arm, "Didn't like being in my room by myself."
He called for Chinese while she moved about in the library. It was fairly simple then. They'd stay far away from the tavern and hopefully Tehera would recover from the shock of being put so close to something so powerfully unnatural. Of course, he'd have to be very careful that she wasn't exposed to the night again, but that was something he was used to from their college days. With that in mind, he walked into the library with some takeout boxes of rice and chicken to find Tehera in the middle of a pile of books, all about the powers of the earth and the supernatural.
"I've been trying to find some of the wards I saw in the basement," she said calmly, "I almost wish I had gotten a better look at them instead of panicking. Maybe we can ask David if we can try going down there – pull the rafter trick again."
Marton swallowed hard. Set the takeout down on a nearby desk.
"Right," he said, "That sounds like a plan to me."