Tonight’s gathering was something special. Every now and again we have them and having trained under Sebastian for ten years I knew the drill. Out of the way place. No bystanders. Take precautions not to be followed or recognized. The reason the Knights get together in such out-of-the-way places is that we don’t want prying eyes to observe our goings on for a couple of reasons; most people would think it pretty odd that a bunch of adults were going around in military style battle dress with axes and swords like some sort of S.C.A. reenactment ready to lay siege to Fort Knox. Probably would freak out and call the police in about half a heartbeat. People are also quick to label everything as a terrorist? That’s all we would need. Secondly we do have quite obviously not so human participants regularly in attendance and that would certainly raise suspicion. Also in a place like Forest Park being secretly observed is darn near impossible.
Now I want to step back a bit and let you know a little more about myself. I live in a two-story old brick building located on N. New York and N. Decatur St within the industrial area near the Willamette River by Cathedral Park under the St. Johns Bridge. Much of the area around Cathedral Park has been converted into housing. Condos, townhouses and buildings with lofts above and businesses below offer a unique and now, high-priced area to live within St. Johns. Once upon a time the building I call home was used as a shipping warehouse back in the 40’s. A gift to myself from a misspent youth. Remember I mentioned I played three card monty and other games where I stacked the odds in my favor, this is what I bought with my ill-gotten gains, that and the renovations plus a few other creature comforts contained inside the loading bays. Hey, I never claimed to be a saint. When the Knights agreed to take me in they agreed to do so upon certain concessions; 1) I had to agree to give up the life of petty crime I indulged in to support my often decadent lifestyle, 2) I had to host meetings at my place once a week for the surrounding district Knights. Not like tonight. Tonight was different. 3) Finally I had to offer sanctuary and comfort to those of and friends of the Knights that asked it of me. This maybe happened or twice a month for a weekend at most. The duration I agreed to was 5 years. That was 10 years ago. After the five years passed I realized I actually enjoyed seeing my brethren and playing host to both them and other non-human guests. It helped to give me a sense of family. I mean I have family but not the kind that understands who I am and where I come from. Most of my family think I am a con-man with good luck.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming; For tonight’s meeting I will be putting on a charade for any locals that might notice as I walk to my meeting less than 3 miles away. To make sure I am not followed I head north about 10 blocks staying on St. Louis as it is a major thoroughfair and anyone seeing me would be less suspicious of someone walking on the main road. As St. Louis turns east and becomes N. Fessenden St. I continue until I hit N. Oswego Ave. and turn South. I take this another 6 blocks until I meet up with N. Lombard. By this point N. Lombard is heading SW for about 2 blocks before it makes another turn to of about 30 degrees west starting to turn totally west and keeping parallel to the Willamette River. I stay on N. Lombard until I run into N. Philadelphia Ave. heading south and ultimately onto and across the St. Johns Bridge. This jaunt cost me about 30 minutes but the walk allowed me to clear my head and focus on tonight.
My disguise consists of a backpack, complete with bed-roll and a walking stick. I have on large dark green cargo pants and a large plain olive-green wind breaker with detachable hood. Hood currently detached. The only thing that might not pass for “normal” for someone of my supposedly humble resources are my boots; they are newer looking and definitely out-of-place with the rest of my ensemble. Hard to take off old boots and put on new ones in any sort of hurry and when you try you look terribly ridiculous hopping around on one leg then the other. To complete the outfit I wear an old green bandana got from any army surplus store, like the rest of my outfit. This sort of individual is seen all over Portland and one more is not going to make one bit of difference. Hide in plain sight I always say.
At about 2:3o am I head out of my . The night is quiet, the air is crisp and clean. I pass through the city undetected or rather unnoticed. I look like many of the dregs that you find underneath overpasses, bridges and other open places that haven’t been fences off that might offer some protection against the elements. There are a few souls out and about either making their way home from one of the several bars, I gather by their irregular gate, littering either side of Lombard. None has paid any attention to me.
The St. Johns Bridge is a nice looking bridge compared to most in Portland. It has two tall double-pointed Gothic towers that straddle the bridge at points about 1/3 and 2/3’s across the Willamette River. There are sidewalks on either side and designated areas for bikes to ride on. Below the bridge on the North side of the river is Cathedral Park, my guess is that its name was given by the illusion given when standing under the bridge looking south at the underside of the bridge, it appears that they are the spires of a cathedral when you line them up one in front of the other. Or at least that is what I heard. Right, moving along.
As I walk across the bridge I stop in roughly the center and look out over the water; lights dot the shoreline with the evening shift working hard at the train yards. There can be made out a single boat on the water, possibly law enforcement making standard patrols, possible a fisherman getting an early start for a day of bliss however the night is quiet and the air is clean, not yet fouled by car or boat exhaust. I can see the lights of the northern end of downtown Portland as I make it across the bridge I am thankful that there have been few cars and no pedestrians walking it. Altogether a good night for a jaunt into the “woods”. Continuing across the bridge I turn east as if I were to join up with Highway 30 but about midway down the road about 3 hundred yards there is a turn-out where people park at so they can walk back up the hill and enter the park using the cement stairs for those who want to walk the path more travelled. I myself however will be going the path less travelled. That is to say I will be hopping into the ravine just at the far side of the turn out and scrambling my way up the hill.
I make my way down to the turnout and look around so as to make certain no one was around and no cars were traveling into St. Johns or towards the more upbeat downtown scene. Once satisfied I jump into the small ravine that has cut a swath down the side of the hill. The landing is a little jarring as there seems to have been a sink-hole to have opened up right at the base of the ravine and the new “bottom” is about eight feet farther down than I anticipated. The ground is uneven and only my heightened reflexes and sense of balance keep me from straining my ankle or worse. The sinkhole provides me with a much-needed place to remove my costume and prepare for the evening. I take off my pack and set it on the dry ravine. Take off my oversized army jacket to reveal my black body armor. A quick pull on either leg and my best male stripper move later with pants high overhead the velcro gives way to reveal my black cargo pants underneath.
I am invisible and silent. My outfit is made up of magically enhanced lightweight lycra like material over a Kevlar vest in matt black. Better to absorb than to reflect light. I also wear black cargo pants with various implements of the trade contained within its vast pockets made from a denim material, also augmented to be more durable. My feet are adorned in black steel toe combat boots, also magically protected against the severest physical damage. We’re talking old school meets new school here. I also have elbow and knee pads on as well as a helmet that I pull out of the backpack, also of lightweight material. More for the radio receiver contained within it than for any real protection to my melon. I also carry a couple small two and a half-foot swords on my back in scabbards. They are light and short enough I can wield them one-handed or because of the extended handle can wield them with two hands.
The blades are silent and quite deadly. Both have been created using iron or in the old-world, cold iron because of their cold feel to the touch. They have also been lightly dusted with silver for the really nasty critters that are immune to iron. They have also been augmented somewhat by a close friend of mine that dabbles a little in enchantments, making them both lighter and stronger than steel. She also placed a few other charms on them but those will be told about at another time.
The night air is cool and dry, thankfully. This armor and gear after a while of climbing takes its toll and I find that I am perspiring. It would be ten times worse had it been raining out. Thankfully though, it isn’t raining. Although a light drizzle would mask my scent from any beings using smell as its primary sense to locate or track.
After about 10 minutes of climbing the 35 degree incline of a rugged dry ravine that is a natural egress for water during heavy rains I know I am well beyond the vision and hearing of any of the norms around and begin to relax somewhat, only to be put on high alert by an ear-splitting howl in the not to far distance. In fact it sounds like it is coming from the direction I am heading. The call is answered in kind by numerous howls from various places around deeper within the park.
I quickened my pace and touch the side of my helmet activating its speaker hoping that someone else within the Order had done the same. “Portland checking in. Anybody else here?” For moments dreadful silence greet my ears. I start to think the worst. What might have caused all of the Order to not respond when abruptly I am greeted by first static then the deep resonant voice of my old instructor Sebastian.
“Martin, I take it you have a good reason for breaking radio silence?” His voice held the slightest tightness to it. Those few words spoke volumes and was enough for me to try to save a little face here. Likely other people, important people, would be listening in and I needed to think fast to make this sound credible and not make a fool of myself and more importantly Sebastian.
“Of course Commander, I was just reporting unusual activity around my, uh, the site’s perimeter. Something of the unnatural kind sir, and if I am not mistaken and if Forest Park has not had a large pack of wolves take up residence in it recently, we are looking at possibly either a force of indeterminate size of the weres moving in to protect new territory or an advance party of a neighboring pack of their community.” I didn’t sound convincing to myself but maybe it was close enough to the truth that it would fly.
There was a moment’s pause, just a bit longer than it should have been, as if Sebastian was considering his words carefully. “Martin, I am aware of the activity. They are of no concern to you. You are to double-time-it until you are within arms length of me. That is not a request, time is tick-tocking away. I am counting on you.”
Did a detect some nervousness in his voice? Was he in trouble? Had he been held under duress and made to say those things? What did he mean that they were of no concern to me? The last time there was an altercation with the were community and the Knights things ended badly and our relationship had been strained ever since.
Fortunately no more howls greeting me but the silence was almost as bad as the ear-splitting keen of an adult were in animal form, especially wolves. Some things to know about weres; almost all were’s form communities within themselves, their own hierarchy as it were. Wolves are right up there at the top. They tend to have large packs, are tenacious adversaries and vicious fighters. They make for perfect allies and horrible enemies. Right now we were neither so I was uncertain what I would do if I met up with one tonight.