Brightgate was a beautiful name for a town, Casimir thought. The name made him think of a shining gate opening, humans standing beyond it and smiling with open arms.
It was bitterly funny to him that Brightgate was now called the City of Monsters.
Nearly every city had monsters now, though. As Shakespeare had put it, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” He couldn’t remember the last time he’d traveled to a place and not met at least one “monster” like himself.
As he walked into the City of Monsters, he began to understand why Brightgate had the nickname above others. Just like every other city, Brightgate was devastated by the events that had blown the gates to hell (or wherever it was monsters had come from) open, some seventy years ago. Casimir had visited places where the decay had been peaceful—quiet, with crumbling buildings covered by vines and inhabited by animals. The Earth taking over what humans had left.
In Brightgate, that wasn’t the case. Buildings were falling apart, but many of them clearly had people living inside. Some had collapsed into piles of brick, metal, and twisted wiring. There were no streetlights; only flickering neon signs provided any way to see. Even the moon overhead was blocked out by smog.
The dark didn’t bother Casimir—he could see as well as any nighttime predator. As he made his way through, he noticed eyes looking at him. Most weren’t human; some glowed with a hellish green light. He nodded in their direction—close to, but not quite, a bow—and continued on his way. He wasn’t going to tangle with demons. It only would end with him dying painfully.
As he walked on, he started to hear something. It was a disgusting, squelching noise, like fighting through deep mud. He turned and looked over his shoulder. At first, he saw nothing, but when he glanced back again, he found just what was making the noise.
He’d never seen a monster like it before. The size of a human torso, it was a nauseating roll of a fleshy, red mass. A crackle of energy, so dark that even Casimir could barely see it, surrounded its body as it floated through the air, closing in on him.
Casimir took a few steps back, putting distance between himself and the creature, and drew a gun from his coat pocket. He mentally ripped through all of the information he had about different monsters, but he had no idea what this thing was, or what would kill it. Most creatures could be hurt by bullets, though. With steady hands, he aimed at the center of the mass and fired. The shots easily went through its body and flew out the other end. The monster didn’t seem to care, continuing to roll closer.
There was no point in wasting bullets; they were hard enough to come by. Stowing his pistol, Casimir pulled a knife from the sheath at his hip. He had a gut feeling that he shouldn’t let the thing come this close to him, but the only alternative was to outrun it. And he had no idea where he would run to.
Once it was close, Casimir brought his knife up into the underside of where he guessed the thing’s head would be. The knife passed through, and red flesh wrapped around his hand. He growled in pain as he felt his skin burning, and he pulled with all his might to free himself. Even with his vampiric strength, he lost his knife and found himself sitting down hard on the ground.
Casimir had no time to see who gave the order, but he obeyed it, rolling as quickly as he could to one side. He looked up and in the same instant, a bright flash of light came from the balcony above. The fleshy creature burst into flame. It gave off a horrible smell as it burned and finally fell to the ground, where it lay quivering.
Panting, Casimir looked at his hand. It was bubbling and blackened, but it would hopefully be healed by the time he woke again. He looked around until he saw a tall, thin young man standing on a balcony. “Thank you,” he called up.
“Either you’re new here, or you’re an idiot, walking around unarmed,” the young man shouted back. “Everyone here knows enough to at least carry matches!”
Casimir shuddered. He would go up in flames just as quickly as the monster would. “I’m new here; I try not to be an idiot,” he replied, giving the man a close-lipped smile.
“What the hell are you doing here?” was his immediate, suspicious question.
“I’m looking for a place to sleep. And I’m hungry,” Casimir said, hoping his smile looked friendly.
The young man hung over the balcony rail, his long arms dangling. “Hungry for food, or something else?”
“Something else.” Casimir admired the man’s perception.
He rolled his dark eyes and lifted a hand to jerk a thumb back, over his own shoulder. “Thought so. Behind my building you’ll find what you’re looking for. But if you hurt any of them, you’ll have to answer to me.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Casimir said. One on one, there would be no challenge, but the man knew the city. He could appear from anywhere and set Casimir on fire, like he had the flesh monster. Besides that, Casimir was never one for needlessly hurting people. Especially not since…
“We’ll see.” The young man disappeared into the shadows.
Casimir waited, but he never reappeared. Either he was a monster as well, or he just backed into a doorway. It didn’t matter; he wasn’t blocking Casimir’s way and had even helped him.
He looked down at the pile of still-sizzling flesh, trying to find his knife, but it was impossible to see. Even with the creature dead, he didn’t think it would be smart to put his hand anywhere near it.
Hiding his injured hand in the pocket of his coat, he walked in the direction the young man had pointed. He passed through a dark alley until his way was brightened by a white neon sign that spelled out the words: “Jewel Box.” A beautiful young man was sitting out on the porch in a loose red robe and gave him an inviting smile.
Casimir grinned. This looked like exactly what he needed.