In a graveyard: six people stood in a row facing a man in a dark coat.
There was something not quite human lying at his feet.
“My name is Alexei Dragomir,” said the man, “and I am now your – for lack of a better word – commander. I don’t know your stories, and I don’t care to. I don’t even need to know your names. All I care about is that you’ve passed the tests my superiors put you through, which means you’re my new recruits. And as my recruits you are, as of tonight, part of an organization officially known as Her Majesty’s Order of Spirit Hunters, although not even Her Majesty knows we exist.”
It was a speech he’d made many times before. Ever year Dragomir was handed a new batch of would-be heroes, and he always told them the same thing. It was a speech he made almost as frequently as his eulogy for a fallen comrade.
“We exist,” continued Dragomir, “to protect the realms of the living and to keep the equilibrium between life and death. Well, that’s what it says on the crest back at our offices. Really, our job is to find any unhallowed, disembodied, ghostly son of a bitch we can, and when we find them, to destroy them. Which isn’t to say all ghosts are bad. In my many years in the profession I’ve come across some good undead, but they are few and far between. Most spirits are angry balls of ectoplasm and they won’t hesitate to rip out your throat. Which brings me to my second point. Every year I get six new recruits, and every year at least two of you will die. But if you’re resourceful, and strong, and more than a little lucky, I can make you a hero. I can it make it that the dead shudder when they hear your name. And if you doubt my ability to do that, you obviously don’t know who I am. I’ve been hunting ghosts for thirty years. I’ve dueled with phantoms in the catacombs under Prague. I’ve faced vengeful spirits in the Black Forest. I’ve ended hauntings, expelled ghosts and cast a dozen souls down to hell. In short, before the goddamn bogeyman goes to sleep, he checks that I’m not under his bed.”
The thing lying in front of Dragomir stirred and made a hissing noise. Dragomir shot it with a crossbow. It lay still.
The shot startled one of the recruits. They all looked scared. So scared, in fact, that they said nothing when a shadow dripped down from a stone angel to Dragomir. As it came into the moonlight, the shadow revealed itself to be a crow. There was a piece of paper tied to its leg. The crow landed on the grave beside Dragomir and cocked its head to the side, watching him.
There was only one person who delivered messages to Dragomir this way. Hesitantly, he took the paper and unfurled it. It read: Go to Whitechapel.
And it was written by someone Dragomir didn’t refuse.
Crumpling the paper and stashing it in his pocket, Dragomir said, “What have you heard about Whitechapel House?”
One of the recruits said, “There’s a Bridge there.”
“Yes,” said Dragomir. “Pack your things. We leave in the morning.”