Wordcount: 4,404 words
Summary: The other Huntsmen finally track down their newest member and haul him off for training, over Jon’s objections.
Please note, this is currently a very rough draft from NaNoWriMo 2007. There will be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, flat out contradictions, and uneven characterization and pacing. (Content is also subject to constant change as I take an editing chainsaw to the story.)
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It is a Small Small World
[Okay, so this is waaaaay too long to be all one chapter, so sue me. :P]
There was a knock on the door, which was completely unexpected and Jon tensed. The dogs had gone into defensive postures and Hunter abruptly headed for the bedroom, fading out to only the barest whisper of a shadow. The fact that none of them had noticed the visitor until the knock really worried Jon, but there was another knock a second later, more demanding.
“Jon, we know you’re in there. Open up.”
It was a woman’s voice, but it was not anyone he recognized. He was pretty sure the cops would have started out with ‘This is the police’, but he also figured that the Dead Man Mafia would have simply opened fire. Which meant there was a good chance it was not either one of them. It could be a perfectly normal person, but his recent luck made him doubt that.
He got up off the couch and walked over to the door cautiously, garnering another impatient knock. For not the first time, he wished the door had a peephole.
He opened the door to find an older man and a woman and a massive pack of dogs. The dogs flowed around him into the house, rowdily exploring even as he stepped aside to let the two humans in after them.
It was an overabundance of dogs, a wild yelping marking rioting mess of limbs and unexpectedly cold noses and a feeling of ‘not right’ that shivered at your bones. He was lost for a minute in just the chaos of it all, thirty some odd dogs that weren’t dogs that pulled with them the shadows of things that weren’t meant to be.
Jon steadied against his own Dogs, trying to hold onto the hear and now while the other packs pulled him away. Tos leaned heavily into him, snarling a rough baseline as Jon’s pack weighted their Singing until he was steady again.
That’s when the other two Huntsmen finally stepped forward, calming their packs and smiling in a way that set his teeth on edge. He waited for them to make the first move, because they’d cornered him, not the other way ’round. But it was hard not be to nervous when they were so outnumbered and when they’d just come down from the adrenaline of facing off at the warehouse.
He could just faintly hear Hunter in the pack’s singing, she’d faded out well past what anyone would be able to hear. He hoped.
“You’re Jon.” The new woman looked at him expectantly, but it was not a question. He nodded anyways. “Huh.” He though she sounded disappointed somehow.
“You’ll come with us then.” Then man seemed unconcerned with either Jon or his pack, as if he expected them to just come to heal without objection.
“Hell no.” Jon felt Akela solidify under his other hand, and the singing took on that sharp echo that it had right before a fight.
“Do you even know who we are?” The woman looked amused, not upset. Their dogs also seemed unimpressed with his pack’s sudden defensive shift.
Jon blinked at her, how the hell was he supposed to know who they were?
She laughed, and the man looked nonplussed.
“Well then, better sit down and chat a bit, eh?” She gestured in the direction of the sofa as if she was offering him hospitality. Never mind that it was his house.
Jon leaned on the Dogs, but got nothing back. No obvious threat, but no recognition either. They were seriously outnumber though, even with Hunter to back them up, so he gave in and nodded. It could not hurt to get them talking.
They had him sit on the sofa and the woman sat on the corner of the coffee table, the man standing behind her.
“First off, our names are unimportant,” she woman smiled disarmingly, “but you can call me Daisy and him Chowder.”
The man look resigned as she named him, “Long story, do not ask.”
“Those obviously aren’t our names, and we’ll get into why in a little bit. You’ll get to pick one yourself, so start thinking of something good now or you’ll end up getting named by someone else. Think of it as a permanent nickname.”
“That never ever goes away.” Chowder sighed.
“So you know what the dogs are, or at least you’ve at least got a grasp on it since we’ve been told you’re the one that provided the intel about the warehouse.” She looked at him expectantly and he nodded, uncertainly. “The long and short of it is that the dogs are there to stop anyone the Veil Walkers from coming through the veil and we’re there to stop the people who help the Walkers.”
Which did not sound quite right, but it did seem to match up with most of what had happened so far. “And the Veil is?”
She blinked, “It is the line between life and death. It is called the Veil because they used to go back and forth through it. Otherwise it’d be the Stonewall of Death or the Really Big Cliff or some such. It was not until the powers that be decided the dead were getting a little too meddlesome in other people’s lives that they closed it off. Thus Veil Walkers are people who walk through the Veil. Which used to be everyone.”
“Oh.” Which meant Hunter was a veil walker? Or did she mean the giant glowing deer?
[more stuff goes here]
“Well I’d need to check with the cops.” The two looked at him with disbelief. “You see there was this drive by, then the place I worked burnt down ” he trailed off as they shook their heads. “It is not like I did it on purpose.”
“That does change things,” Daisy had pulled out her blackberry and was busy zooming through her address book. “Ah, here we go.” She dialed and walked over to the corner to talk to someone, chattering away faster than Jon could follow.
“She’ll get it straightened out, no worries.” Chowder yawned and rolled his shoulders tiredly. “We’ve got a lot of contacts in and out of the various government agencies. Most likely they’ll just let us take responsibility for you, we’ve done transport work for them before, it is more or less the same thing.”
“Except I’m not a prisoner.”
“Well yeah, expect for that.”
Jon was not mollified and waited with a grumpy look on his face while Daisy got things straightened out. It took about twenty minutes, but she finally snapped the phone close with a satisfied grin.
“We’ll pick up the paperwork tomorrow morning and you’re good to go.” She pointed the phone at him, “You ready to head out tomorrow? We’ve got a bit of a trip and I’d like to get started relatively early.”
“Already?” Jon blinked. “I mean, I just said yes and you want me to leave right off?”
“Well there’s not much point in waiting,” she sniffed, “the other side is not about to cut us a break just because you’re new.”
“Erm, okay, I guess.” Jon really was not sure this was the brightest idea, nor did he completely trust the duo. But they seemed to have connection and did know a lot more about what was going on than he did.
“Good, we’ll pick you up tomorrow morning then,” she tip an imaginary hat as she left, Chowder following behind with another yawn.
He watched them leave and the plopped back into the couch, surrounded by the dogs and waiting for Hunter to reemerge. She did, after a short while, still mostly faded out and solemn.
[Conversation with Hunter]
[Dinner with parents]
“So?” His mom looked up as Jon came in the side door. He’d been expecting the question, after all the Huntsmen hadn’t been at all secretive about stopping by. Even without the added visual of the enormous dog pack too boot.
“They offered me a job.” He stuck his head in the fridge and rummaged for something to munch on. Sadly his mother shared his older sister’s taste in munchies (which meant lots or veggies and fruits and very little preprocessed yumminess.) He finally surfaced with one of the less ornate veggie trays.
Jon tried not to get offended that the honest surprise in his mom’s voice. After all, it was not like he was Bethy out running the corporate rat race. Of course when you came down to it, he’d still probably end up with more marketable job skills than she did… just his did not pay as well. He dumped the veggie tray on the counter and hooked a foot around one of the tall stools, dragging it across the linoleum and ignoring his mother’s annoyance at the hop skip and jump it made on the way.
“Yeah, apparently they head of me.” He waved a celery stick in a descriptive circle, eyes locked on his food. She was pretty good at figuring out when he was lying and there was no way he was giving her any more clues than he had to. “Knack with dogs and whatnot. I think it is mostly contracting work, visiting rich folk’s houses and whatnot.” It was a lie and it was not a lie, which made it easier to tell. Plus she is always been in at him to try and use his knack to make a living, or to help people, or to help dogs (he supposed). He made quick work of the carrot section of the tray and she sighed across the kitchen at him.
“You fill that up again.” She waved the knife she was using to chop broccoli meaningfully.
“Sure, sure.” It was a house rule that if you ate it you replaced it, but it was also a house rule that Jon never actually replaced anything. Mostly because he grazed when he cooked (or chopped) and rarely ended up with enough leftovers to make it worth their while. “I’m heading out to some orientation thing tomorrow,” He started in on the zucchini. “Might be an overnight thing, not really sure. They apparently have a building a few hours out that they wanted me to see. Probably just to see me in action or something.” He abandoned the zucchini for the squash. “Wish me luck?”
“Since when have you ever needed luck?” He mother grinned over at him and for then nine thousandth time he was glad he had such strange parents. “But yes, yes, good luck bobo. Now help your father set the table.” With that she shoed him out to the dinning room to help his father fish the appropriate plates out of the cabinets that they’d built into the seats.
It was an odd house.
[the next day]
Jon was not sure what he had expected, but the non descript navy blue passenger van was not it. It was and older van, and there were a few places near the bottom where the paint had chipped and you could see that it had once been an even more non descript white. On the side was the Huntsmen Inc. logo, a stylized motif of Artemis (bow in hand) and her hounds, silhouetted against a crescent moon. The logo on the business cards was simpler; simply the head of a hound against a moon, but Jon liked the full blown version better.
He tossed his gym bag in the back, on top of the other luggage already there and climbed into the middle seat. The bus was empty expect for himself and the two Huntsmen and Akela hopped in beside him, popping up through the floor and onto the seat. She gazed unperturbed at the Huntsmen when they gave her displeased looks, and refused to move. Jon was less inclined to worry about what kind of impression it made and happy to have her with him. He still was not quite sure about the dynamics of the whole situation, but it was nice to have a known variable in the equation.
“So where we going?” He settled back in the seat as the van pulled away from the house, conscious of Hunter and the rest of the hunt watching him leave from the apartment.
“We have a company building in eastern Pennsylvania,” the woman twisted in the front passenger’s seat to face him. “It is not a big complex, but it’ll give us a meeting place for the rest of the local hunts.”
“How many hunts are there?” Because up until now he’d sort of though his hunt was the only one for a good long ways. It was rather insulting that none of the others had come to help them.
“Not many, there was an influx of Veil walkers about five years ago and they did a number on the local hunts. Most of the folk that’ll be showing up are New York and Tennessee packs.” She shrugged. “There are a few smaller hunts that aren’t part of the association, so they won’t be coming, but we’ll pass on any information we learn through the dogs.” She nodded at Akela. “Everything we do depends on them.”
Which made sense in a way, although Jon was still trying to figure out how they’d switched the power dynamic around. He worked for the dogs; they certainly did not work for him. For the other two hunts it looked like the exact opposite. Then again, that could just be because he hadn’t been around them that much. But his was the only Dog in the van, so maybe not.
“So they talk to you?” Because that had been bugging him, Hunter seemed positive the dogs could actually talk but he’d seen no hint of it from his own pack.
“No, why?” She looked genuinely puzzled.
“Nothing, I just ” he waved a hand “you seemed like you knew what was going on and I though maybe they’d told you.”
“Nope,” she shook her head ruefully, “everything we know about them, and about what’s going on either comes from the writings or plain old sleuthing. They’re just dogs after all.”
Which was probably the stupidest thing he’d heard yet, but Akela whuffed at him and nudged her head under his hand for pets. He skritched absently, but he could hear her warning in the Singing. So he just nodded, and let her lead the conversation onto the association and its various benefits. If they did not know about the Dogs, then there must be a reason. But that begged the question of why his own hunt was letting him in on the secret.
“So how do you know all this anyways?” Jon leaned back in the seat trying to get comfortable. He’d unbuckle his seatbelt and lounge over the entire row but he figured that was probably illegal. Yay for seatbelt laws.
“A lot of what we know comes from the lore books. Before that it was all word of mouth. Some one at some point decided it was better written down and made a book out of it. We keep it going, adding things as we learn them, or as people postulate theories. At the moment it’s an eBook.”
“What, you have it out there where anyone could buy it?”
“Well yeah, but who’s going to? It’s mostly just gibberish to anyone who doesn’t know what’s going on. Heck it’s gibberish even to the people who do half the time. Besides, it’s priced at like one hundred buck and no one is going to pay that much for it except us.”
“And the Hindsmen, right?”
“Mm, not if they’re smart. We keep and eye on everyone who buys it, so it’s pretty easy for us to stop them if they try and they know it.”
“You’re like the Big Brother I never wanted.”
[More chatter and driving and whatnot]
Daisy turned to look at him. “Now remember, we are the only ones who know your real name. Times being what they are, we want to keep it that way. So it is time for the nickname ceremony.” She looked serious, but there was an edge of laughter to it.
Jon grinned nervously, looking over to Chowder then back to Daisy. “The what? You are kidding, right?”
“Just humor her. Otherwise she will pick something herself.” Chowder gave him a meaningful look.
“Ah, erm,” Jon tried desperately to think of something before Daisy could even start offering suggestions. “Steve?”
Daisy just looked at him.
There was a moment where Jon wondered if Steve had been taken and then– “Wait, you mean I actually have to pick a non-name name?”
“But Daisy is a real name, that is not fair.” He complained.
Daisy crossed her arms and gave him an unrelentingly glare. “Pick or I pick for you.”
“Fine, fine, gimme a minute.” Jon racked his brain for names that were names, and yet that he could put up being called by. “Spike?”
“Not a chance.”
“Dodger, Chase, Angel, K-9, the Doctor, Innocent Bystander,” He rattled off the names as fast as he could think of then and she finally waved him off.
“Stop, stop, just– stop already.” She lowered her hands when he trailed off. “Look, you’re just really bad at this, apparently. Chowder,” she turned towards the older man, “You name him.”
“Do I have to?”
“Ah, fine, what about Oak?”
“Oak?” Jon looked over at him, baffled.
“You had an oak tree in your yard.” There was a pause. “What? Oh come on, I get named Chowder because that’s what I had for lunch. Tough it up.”
“You named me after a tree.”
“You were busy trying to name yourself after TV shows. I at least get points for going for something pre-pop culture.”
[arrival at safe house, convo with other huntsmen, discussion of what they face and what they need to do]
[that night Hunter shows up and they chat a bit]
[the next day they head out to the hospital to see what kind of intel they can get]
“Wait, why are we here?”
“People have gotten pretty good about keeping the dead alive, we’re just going to go visit one of them. Only true Veil walkers left ah here we go, coma ward this away.”
“That is really really fucked up.”
[More chatter here with Mr. Not Quite Dead Yet Guy, and then…]
“You have a dark sider? Here??” Daisy stared at him incredulously. “When were you going to tell us?”
“Preferably?” Jon scratched the back of his neck nervously. “Never.”
[At which point there is a bunch of yelling and whatnot]
“Wait, just wait” Jon raised a hand to fend off objections. “Seriously, just listen to me for a moment.”
Daisy and Chowder backed down somewhat, but both of them were looking very upset. Jon took a moment to try and get his argument together while Hunter stood in the corner, arms crossed defensively and mostly faded out.
“Now as I understand it everyone here is on the same team, right?” There were grudging nods from all parties. “So what’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is that is that she is here !” Daisy pointed at Hunter angrily, “She is not supposed to be here and she knows it. Who knows what kind of trouble we can get in just because we aren’t sending her back!”
“So why do not you ask!” Jon pointed at the coma guy. “He is right there, right? And he can hop on over and ask, right?”
“Well, it is not that ”
“It is not his job to go running errands for people, she needs to get back where she belongs.”
“Why should I? I can be more useful here than I can there.”
“You do not have any Dogs!”
“I do not need any!” Hunter pointed right back. “Maybe I do not have any purchase over the Dogs or the living, but I’ve got power over the dead and that’s something none of you have!”
“Yeah, but all we have to do is take out the grounding and the dead snap right back home.” Daisy snapped her fingers threateningly. “And I’d do it to you in a second if Jon was not your anchor.”
“Yes, yes, fine, whatever, but I am .” Jon glared at the two of them. “So if she is stuck here until I die or she feels like leaving there is not much we can do about it.” He cut off Chowder before he could do more than open his mouth. “And no I’m not dying. Dying is not on the table. Ever.”
“achem” the ghost coughed politely, “If I may?” They all looked over at him an the unexpected interruption. “Did it ever occur to anyone that the very fact that she is still here is because the Powers That Be have allowed her to do so?”
There was a confused silence.
“The blood gifting was meant for veil creatures, the very fact that it appears to have worked without one being part of the equation smacks of some sort of interference. If it was The Powers That Be, I do not know who else it could have been.”
“And I can not just walk over and ask them,” he turned to address Jon, “they do not talk to us. Many believe that they do speak to the Veil creatures, but we have no way of knowing for certain.”
There was a confirming surge in the Singing, and Jon was careful not to change his expression. It would be easier to hide that the Dogs were communicating with him if they’d stop participating in the conversations.
Akela snorted at him and then turned to pay attention to the other dogs (who were apparently snubbing him). Jon thought something sarcastic and then concentrated on the conversation again.
“So we just go along with it?” Chowder did not seem to think that was a good idea at all. “I still do not think this is a good idea.”
“But the other option is killing Jon.”
“Yeah, or finding another way to make her leave.” Chowder eyed Hunter and she glared back at him. “Do not suppose it is worth appealing to your sense of honor?”
“This has nothing to do with honor!”
“Apparently not then.”
“So what are doing?”
“Dark side suggests trying to find the Eastern coalition” the ghost shrugged. “There is not much organization within the Veil Walkers, it is setup much like your own group. Splinter cells, all of you.” He made a face.
“Well, then I guess we just continue what we’ve been doing?” Daisy seemed hesitant to just continue business as usual. “We really do not have enough hunts to cover the whole eastern seaboard. Plus what happens if they catch on and move inland?”
“They’re just people,” Jon interjected then shrugged when she stared at him. “They have jobs and homes and families, just like us, right?” She nodded hesitantly. “So it is not like they can up and move , that’s just not normal.”
“Huh, suppose he has a point.” Chowder eyed Jon with something akin to impressed. “We might do better just to tag the houses and keep an eye out if they move. We’ve got traces on some of them, and they really do not move much. Except for the folks who’ve gone contracting like we have.”
“How long have these people been around??” Jon was under the impression that the Veil Walkers had been a more recent happening, unlike the Hounds which seemed to have been around forever.
“As a group? Probably longer than we have, although they’re much better at keeping under the radar.” Daisy shrugged. “There are a lot more people interested in cheating death than there are in keeping the dead on the dark side. There also do not seem to be as many Hinds and Hounds,” there was a sudden surge in the Singing as the dogs disagreed, “but that might change if we keep loosing people in ones and twos.”
[So Jon gets assigned to a task group that goes out every so often to hunt down strays from the other side and to gather information. This gives us the chance for a little bit of action and a whole lot of padding, if needed. The task group members are always changing, so it’s a little odd. Jon is never sure if it’s because they are losing Huntsmen or because they are just short handed and moving people around a lot.
In between this, he does actually get to go on some dog whispering type assignments, because they are trying to earn a bit of money after all. He has a bit of fun with the various dogs, being careful never to quite give away his actual knack.
Along the way he learns some interesting things about the older generation huntsmen and what the bond used to be like. There is a lot of information that indicated the dogs can bond much more closely than they do, but they chose not to. His own bond is apparently much stronger than other peoples and it seems to be because of Akela management of the pack.
He notices that there is some inter-pack tension and that Tos and Jenna often seem at odds with Akela and Athen. He isn’t quite sure what is going on, but it looks interesting. He also learned that both pairs came from separate packs not too long ago. Tos and Athen came from an older pack that had simply grown too large and Akela came from a pack that had been more or less wiped out in an attack.
Of course it’s on one of these missions that Jon get’s kidnapped by the Bad Guys(tm). Because hey, it’s cliché, and darn but we love our clichés. Heh.]