Nightfall had already draped itself over the city when Annik’s airship landed on the vast runway. She had booked the flight from Oslo with the intention of arriving early in the day, but with the constant crush of travelers in and out of her destination, her original flight had been delayed, forcing her to wait for an open seat on a later flight. Her nerves had been frayed by the wait and didn’t begin to settle until she was finally in the air.
Truth be told, it was unlikely she had been followed into Oslo. It was even possible she could’ve stayed there, living with relative ease amongst the big city’s predominantly human population. Annik hadn’t shifted into her lupine form for many years. But there was always the risk of being discovered, and with growing general resentment against her kind across Norway—really, across much of the world—she would always be watching the shadows and suspicious of others. The few urbanized packs of lycanthropic shapeshifters like herself were territorial of the spaces they carved for themselves and not known for their friendliness to outsiders, so she would never be able to rely on them for support if it were needed.
There were only a few cities in the world that openly promoted themselves as “sanctuary cities” for supernatural beings: cities that offered legal protections and pathways to citizenship in light of the hatred and violence faced by the non-humans. Whereas supernatural populations had once been growing strong, they were now dwindling due to the violence and ongoing low fertility rates, especially amongst lycanthropes who were hated most of all. Blamed for everything from loss of livestock to polluting the human gene pool in addition to violence and general criminal acts, cities and states governed primarily if not exclusively by humans were shifting laws that had once provided at least basic anti-discrimination protections to more punitive measures.
In Norway, the government had been reluctant to cast aside anti-discrimination laws, especially due to the increasingly low numbers of both lycanthropes and their non-supernatural lupine counterparts. But the laws that did exist were largely ignored by the general public, who often took matters into their own hands, and the issue was compounded by the fact that authorities rarely if ever punished crimes against non-humans. Lycanthropes had to be careful about whom they shared their true nature with, or they had to be capable of defending themselves. For loners like Annik, it was a precarious position.
With the Open Borders Agreements, it was easier for her to seek refuge in a city that wasn’t terribly far from home. Though the Agreements didn’t provide citizenship or even work permits, she could travel freely without going through any checkpoints. Annik didn’t have time to wait around for a passport, and besides, one of the biggest and highly favored sanctuary cities was right across the North Sea in the U.K.
In the foretimes, the megacity had been called London, but as the populations of lycanthropes and other supernaturals increased, it became viewed as an idyllic paradise, an arcadia. Much to the consternation of traditionalists and nationalists, when the city became governed by more non-humans than humans, a vote was cast to officially change the name to Arcadia. Though there was much grumbling outside of Arcadia, no serious counteractions had ever been taken, enabling the city to thrive as a mecca for the lycanthropes and others.
“Do you need help retrieving your baggage?”
The airship attendant’s question startled Annik, lost deep in thought, and he began to apologize profusely despite her assurances and dismissals. In addition to his hospitable nature, he was young, with a face and smile that most passengers probably found pleasant, rendering him the archetype of a flight attendant. He also had bicep muscles that bulged just slightly under the fabric of his uniform, accentuating his general helpfulness with the needs of travelers.
Annik realized that nearly all the other passengers had left the ship for the clear, tunnel-like walkway that led inside the terminal. The attendant had been attempting to politely remind her it was time to deboard. Her cheeks burned in embarrassment.
“No, thank you, I was just waiting for the crowd to disperse,” she said to him, pretending it was her original intention.
He held his palms out to her and briefly closed his eyes as he spoke with his hospitable cheerfulness. “Oh, I completely understand! All that jostling and jolting! It’s worse than turbulence isn’t it? But you’re all clear for departure now!”
With a grin, he chuckled at his own little joke and Annik gave him a feeble laugh with a tiny smile as she got up to retrieve her two bags. She hoped his job was worth it to spend his hours sucking up to the varied temperaments of travelers like herself. Plodding off down the aisle to the tunnel, she was inwardly grateful, despite her embarrassment, that she was the only passenger left on board the airship. The attendant wasn’t wrong about the claustrophobic crowds eager to board or depart.
As she crossed the threshold from the tunnel into the main walkways of the terminal, there were large electronic signs for travelers, reminding them of important Arcadian rules. The largest one, as if to emphasize its critical nature, was stated in all capitals: WEREWOLVES MUST REPORT TO THE WOLF BAY RESORT ONE DAY PRIOR TO FULL MOONS FOR QUARANTINE. FAILURE TO COMPLY WILL RESULT IN IMMEDIATE DEPORTATION. It had a hotline number to call for more information and directions. Annik wondered what kind of “resort” it was as well as how the was enforced since it relied on travelers self-identifying as werewolves. Then she wondered where exactly they were deported to if they were caught. Nevertheless, she was glad it wasn’t applicable to her.
In contrast, the smallest sign reminded travelers that Arcadia was a cigarette-free zone, that the nicotine sticks were illegal and would be confiscated in addition to the possibility of hefty fines. No signs regarding other substances with substantial health effects were visible, though, so the rules on those were unclear. Annik had many issues but addiction wasn’t one of them.
Not seeing anything posted that seemed to apply directly to her, she continued through the brightly lit waystation until she reached the arrival loading zones outside. As she followed the signs to the designated shuttle port, she found the temperature as frigid as it had been in Norway. The unusual cold seeped through the layers she had bundled herself into, making the ten-minute wait for the next available shuttle seem interminable. The night wind was starting to pick up as well, hurrying clouds heavy with wintry precipitation toward the city. Each freezing gust burned her exposed cheeks, and she kept glancing at the taxi idling in the adjacent bay, seriously tempted by its warmth and convenience. However, the need for frugality overrode her desire for warmth, so she forced herself to wait for the free shuttle.
Thankfully, the shuttle was not delayed and dropped Annik, its only passenger, right in front the entrance to the hotel she had booked online while waiting in Oslo. But it was so late that the customer service desk was no longer staffed. A sign indicating “self-check-in” pointed to a computer terminal bearing a distinct resemblance to antiquated money-machines. When she approached it, a round, yellow smiley face appeared on the screen. In addition to verbal greetings, it also had printed the words on the screen.
“Welcome, valued guest, to The Continental, Arcadia’s best budget hotel!” It exclaimed to her in an unnecessarily loud mechanical voice that attempted to affect a local accent. “Do you have a reservation?”
Though it gave her the option of speaking to it, Annik chose to use the prompts on the touch screen, sometimes having to repeatedly touch the screen before it acknowledged her response. After multiple attempts at tapping in her reservation confirmation codes, the machine finally dispensed not money, but a slim, flexible keycard. When the machine cheerfully wished her a pleasant stay, she had half a mind to flip a finger at it just to release her frustration, but she was so exhausted that it seemed that an extraneous effort.
She did, however, flip on the television panel affixed to the wall in her tiny room while she deposited her bags and coat into a heap on the floor next to the wardrobe. She had missed all the evening programming and now only the late news was airing. Her stomach rumbled after a long day of refusing to pay the exorbitant amounts charged for the flavorless meals offered in the airship terminals. Annik ignored the complaint; she still had a few snacks in her bag that would tide her over until the hotel opened its breakfast access in the morning.
“…the weather system blowing in from far Eastern parts of Europe is expected to hit the UK by tomorrow night or very early the following morning and will likely produce blizzard conditions with freezing winds and heavy snowfall.” The meteorologist almost seemed to blame the eastern nations for the storm. An image on the television screen stressed her point by showing the immense band of roving clouds moving swiftly across a map toward the vulnerable-looking geographic shape of Britain.
“With such unusual temperatures, there may be disruptions to transportation and power services,” another TV voice chimed in. “Authorities are advising Arcadian citizens to prepare for several days of the freezing Eastern Blast…”
Annik sighed. She wasn’t sure how she was supposed to prepare for a weeklong blizzard. The tiny room boasted an even tinier refrigerator, a microwave, and an electric kettle. It did not feature a fully stocked pantry, candles, or a torch, but there were dinky bottles of booze behind a pay-per-bottle cabinet. Annik had no intention of consuming any of those.
For the moment, there was nothing she could do about the situation. All she wanted to do was soak her tired muscles in a hot bath and crawl under the bed covers. Despite the impending snowstorm, she was relieved to be in Arcadia. The city promised more than the right to be treated equally: It promised her a new and better life away from the traditionally minded rural lycanthropes and the fearful, biased humans of Norway.