Centuries of nervous habit tended to lead those who dealt in the arcane, even in the current era of acceptance
, to deal in the dark. Sometimes literally. And Duskbürg was shady in every way possible.
This wasn't Howie's first trip to the slums of one of America's most thriving metropolises. He couldn't exactly see in the dark, and had gotten jumped the first few times he'd come through, before he started to sort out the finer details of what his magic was capable of. Then, like now, he'd only been carrying a flip phone, a $20, and his Louisiana driver's licence. Tonight he was also carrying a bag of cat treats, but that was because he'd learned how much more spooked by the city Atlanta got than himself.
Tonight, Howie was meeting with an arcane dealer who wanted to see if he could verify the identity of a few things he'd picked up, probably illegally. Howie used to wonder why he got contacted like people like that when there were definitely more powerful mages with more expertise much closer to the artifact dealers. His own experience with magic users, however, quickly revealed that the reason was most likely his reputation for openness and honesty. He didn't have ulterior motives when talking to people like the dealer here, and he'd have no reason to lie to him about the artifacts in his possession. He was even getting paid for this, so he wasn't going to turn down the offer. Money was needed to keep up his and Atlanta's combined diets, after all.
Again, Howard didn't have any kind of immediate darkvision, but he'd gotten into the habit of keeping his mind clear and stretching out his awareness to see whether he'd be able to identify nearby life - or, in more recent cases, vacuums of life that were what had become a recent plague of ever-present undead. Howie didn't necessarily hate vampires, and as with all things he liked to avoid conflict with them when possible, but he wasn't stupid. He had a healthy degree of caution around them, just in case, and kept one corner of his mind intently focused on his own life force in the case he needed to spark a small fire. That was the closest to armed he ever got.
It was his general awareness that made him pause, just for a moment, in front of an abandoned theater. Two people on a roof opposite, posted as if standing guard, both living. There was something inside, though, that definitely wasn't. And a younger spark of life, slightly twisted and mixed with something not completely human, but definitely alive. Not to mention the dozens of oddly behaving, far smaller animal lives that seemed focused on the scene. Howie knew that if he hung out too long contemplating what he sensed he'd probably get shot no questions asked, so he turned to keep walking, letting Atlanta descend from his shoulders to his arms as he thought through his options. He should probably stay out of it, but there was the off chance that someone's life was in danger.
And so his pause seemed to be nothing more than just that, a glance at the front, as if he was examining the stone rather than the pinpoints of existence behind it. He kept walking a bit, just until he was sure the human guards wouldn't be suspicious. He looked homeless enough that he wouldn't catch too much attention by sitting down against the wall and closing his eyes. Atlanta slid out of his arms, and then sat, patiently, while he found his concentration, centered around their two lives. It was an exchange, part of her life expended for the spell, part of his filling the void so that their minds coalesced. Howie's eyes didn't open again, but when Atlanta's did, they seemed more alert, more aware, and more intelligent than before. The moment he saw the need, Howie could withdraw, and Atlanta would be granted full use of her own mind again. For now, though, he could see through the cat's eyes, hear through her ears, smell with her nose. Her senses were his senses, and most people would be none the wiser as his body, in deep meditation, would appear to be asleep. To the casual eye, it simply looked like a homeless man had passed out, and his cat was taking the opportunity to meander away from her master for a short while as he did so.
Atlanta padded toward the building, the space somewhat bigger than it had been when he used his own feet, but she was fast enough not to waste much time. The door was still open a crack, conveniently big enough for a cat to pass through without drawing excess attention to herself. The presence of rats drew the attention of Atlanta's consciousness, but Howie was far more interested in the conversation at the front of the theater, near the stage. Good thing cat ears were better than human ears, because that meant he could let Atlanta prowl around and inspect the rodents while he listened in.
"I'm doing my part to keep m-... your city safe. So... we're cool, right?"
Nerves lingered on the edge of the girl's tone, and Howie understood why. She was young for someone facing down a creature of the night, and whatever was giving off the awful burning stench from the stage. Howie knew what a charred human body smelled like. It may have been his enhanced feline senses, but this smell was somehow worse. There was something more going on here, and before he decided to get involved, he needed to know what.
Slowly, his familiar started moving toward the voices, and Howie was more than ready to bolt at a moment's notice if the vampire noticed any inconsistency in the cat's nature or behavior.