Monthly Archives: November 2014

Wolf’s Moon Epilogue 3

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


A little more than an hour later we were back in Colorado Springs. More specifically we were back at the Full Moon Grill. Incidentally, if you’re life ever starts including bracketing devices, I advise you to get out fast. It’s seldom a good thing. Enrico, who was there when we showed up, promptly joined us and started wheedling information out of the mages so smoothly that I doubted they would ever realize that was what he had been doing.


Once we were there, Luke seemed content to fade into the background. Then, while we were eating, I decided to confront him. Both his exceptional power and the lingering, nagging sense of familiarity concerned me, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it.


Except that, the moment I decided to act, he stood up. “Well,” he said, “I’m afraid I have to leave you. Permanently, I expect. Old friends, treasured opponents, I wish you luck.”


“Wait,” somebody said. “What?”

Rather than answer, Luke swept a mocking bow in my direction. And, when he straightened, I knew why he had seemed so familiar. Because, in place of innocent sky-blue eyes, he had two orbs of mad, dancing flames.


“Son of a bitch,” I sighed. “It’s all but your real name. Loki Laufey’s son. You never get tired of screwing with me, do you?”


Loki grinned. “Of course not. You’re so much fun to mess with.”


I suddenly realized that there was something very wrong. It was quiet. Too quiet, literally. I would have expected confusion, questions, at the very least outrage from Aiko, who knew as well as I did how dangerous Loki was. Instead, there was nothing.


I looked around at a frozen world. People sitting with their mouths open, with forks in the air, but not moving, not speaking. They weren’t even breathing. Even the dust motes seemed to hang in the air immobile.


“How…” I trailed off and looked at Loki. “Did you just stop time?”


“Technically,” he said, “that’s impossible. Time isn’t what you perceive it as, you know. Think of it as being like a road. Most of the time, you travel at the recommended speed of one second per second. I just pulled us out into the passing lane.” He frowned. “Unless it’s actually more like a roundabout. This isn’t a very good metaphor, is it.”




“To have a chat,” he said grandiosely. He ambled aimlessly about the room. “Excellent job back there, by the way. Eight out of ten for style, nine out of ten for pacing and lateral thinking. I do have to say, though, that your final confrontation with Jon was somewhat disappointing. Not nearly enough dramatic tension, and I was really looking forward to an epic battle scene. I’m afraid you get only seven out of ten for action.”


“Explains how your gang there knew how to find me, at least,” I muttered.


“Indeed,” he confirmed. “You were right about them, incidentally. ‘Those who fight monsters,’ indeed.” He laughed. “Can you believe they started applying that term to themselves without any encouragement on my part? Quite appropriate, really. As you observed, they’re already becoming the monsters they profess to despise.”


“Was there ever a real Luke?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know the answer. “Or did you invent him out of whole cloth?”


“Some of both,” Loki said, not seeming offended at all. “The person was real, but you only met him once. After your first encounter, he confronted Jon directly. The old man killed him. I took offense. The persona you actually interacted with, though, was almost entirely an invention on my part. Frankly, the original wasn’t worth imitating. I’ve no idea how he got to be the leader of the group in the first place.”


I sighed. Typical, really.


I hadn’t lost sight of what he’d said, though, and it was kind of concerning. “How bad of monsters are they?” I asked quietly. “Bad enough that I should do something about them?”


Loki grinned wider, an edge of madness to the expression. How could I ever have missed seeing that in Luke? “How would I know?” he retorted. “I have no idea how monstrous somebody has to be to motivate you.” He paused. “Of course, if you’d like, I could tell you their dark secrets. All the things they don’t want anybody to know….”


“Would you be telling the truth, though?”


“Of course,” he said, offended. “You’ve been reading Odin’s press again. I hardly ever lie. The truth is almost always harder than any lie I could tell, anyway. Besides, you should realize that telling truths that were never meant to be spoken is something of a specialty of mine. You’ve read the Lokasenna.”


I blinked. “That was for real?”

He shrugged. “There’s a difference between being factual and being truthful. And sometimes even something which is neither factual nor truthful does, nevertheless, express Truth.”


“You make my head hurt,” I said sourly.


“Get used to it,” he said, not unkindly. “You can expect more of the same, and worse.”


“What’s the cost?”


“Nothing,” he said grandly. “Truth is I feel responsible. I got them together, after all. And got you involved.”


“Yeah, right,” I muttered. I thought for a moment, then nodded. “The truth,” I said confidently. “That’s the cost. The loss of whatever comforting illusions and false impressions I might otherwise have harbored.”


“There, you see? You possess the potential to be quite intelligent. Granted you’re wrong, but that’s really a small point, don’t you think?”


I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. What it came down to was, ultimately, which I valued more: my own peace of mind, or the damage that might be averted by understanding a dangerous thing.


Is that even a choice?


“Fine,” I said. “Tell me.”


Loki grinned and snapped his fingers. Bright, bouncy circus music started to play, from no source that I could tell. He took two steps and then seemed to blur, only coming into focus again when he stood directly behind Jimmy.


“James Frazier,” he said, his voice bright and happy. “Jimmy. He’s prideful. He thinks he knows best, with or without reason. Won’t let anyone tell him what to do, even if he knows it’s a good idea. He would sooner watch his fellows burn than surrender control. I had a hell of a time keeping him in line. It was his idea, you know, to attack this bar—but did he come himself? No, he did not. Because for all his posturing, Jimmy is a coward at heart.”


He spun on his heel and pointed one finger at Mac. “Mackenzie Sorenson,” he said, his voice thoughtful now, at odds with the music. “She’s the best one here. Not a monster, not even a fighter. I do believe that, right now, I couldn’t tempt her from the right-hand path. She’s afraid, you know, every time she sees her friends off to battle. Afraid that they won’t come back. Like you, she fears that the things they do will stain their souls so dark that she won’t recognize them. She is afraid of blood, and needles, but still she became a nurse so that she could help people.” Loki paused, tapping one finger against his lips. “Of course, I expect that when she does go bad, she’ll fall farther and faster than any of the rest.”


“Don’t you mean if she goes bad?”


“Oh, no,” he said, a note of sadness unlike anything I’d heard from him entering his voice. “No, that isn’t how it works. You should know that as well as anyone. The hero business is, alas, not one you can be in forever. There are only really three options, I’m afraid. You die, or you quit the trade, or you see yourself become the villain of the piece.” He smiled gently, not looking away from Mac. “I wonder which she’ll choose?”


I shivered.


“In any case,” he said, turning and taking another few steps that turned into a rapid blur of motion. “Matthew Fisher,” he said, snapping into place beside him. “What a grand and magnificent liar. He pays lip service to their cause, but he doesn’t believe a word of it. He’s a shapeshifter, you know.” The wolf, as I recalled.


“If he doesn’t agree with them,” I asked, “why does he help them?”


Loki smiled, and it was an ugly expression. “Wrath,” he said simply. “That’s his sin of choice. Matthew does so love to fight, you see. He loves the battle, the blood. He likes chasing things.”


I shivered again. “Does he hurt innocent people?”


“Oh, no,” Loki said. “It’s not the killing proper that he hungers for, you realize. The hunt, the chase, the fight…those are what Matthew is addicted to. Innocents aren’t nearly enough of a challenge to intrigue him. Criminals, though, vampires, why, those are interesting game. And, on some level, he does prefer doing good to doing evil. No, odd as it may seem, I think Matthew is perhaps the least worrying of the group, from your perspective.”


The room abruptly faded to black, a velvety darkness so thick I couldn’t see my own hand in front of my face. The music changed, as well, from circus music to a slow, sad nocturne. A spotlight came up, slowly, illuminating Katie where she sat, water raised halfway to her lips. “Katie,” Loki said, softer now, almost a whisper from the darkness. “Katie Schmidt. She works in the shadows, to serve the light. You ever play that game? It was really quite well designed, I think.”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”


He sniffed. “Not my fault. Anyway. Katie. A pure soul, though like most pure souls she would deny any such allegation. Not a pacifist like Mac there, but still a good person. She sees that what they do is of, to say the least, dubious morality, and it makes her worry. She knows Nietzsche as well as you do. That particular quote occurs to her more and more frequently, recently. She sees that she is willing to fight, to kill even, in the name of the cause, and wonders whether…just maybe…she’s already gone too far down that slippery slope to ever come back. She lied to her parents, yesterday, about what she was doing. She can’t stop thinking about it, even now in your moment of triumph. It haunts her. She would never believe you if you were to tell her, right now, that within a few years she will be perpetrating atrocities that…well, if the person she is now were to see it, it would chill her soul.”


“After all,” he continued slowly, sadly, inexorably, “pure isn’t the same as good. It’s hard to find someone much darker than the person who used to be so good.”


Between blinks, the world changed again. The room came back to full lighting, the music switched to the William Tell Overture (Lone Ranger music, if you don’t know the actual name), and Loki was standing next to Mike.


“Michael Adams,” he said, laughter dancing beneath the surface of his words. “Ol’ Mike Adams, going all vigilante. Who’d have thought it. He used to believe in the law. Never had a God, but then he never much needed one. Thought that the world was a cruel place, but that was okay because he knew his place in it. He knew what he was doing, and it was the right thing to do. He was making the world a better, a safer place every day.”


“Faith is a funny thing, though,” Loki said meditatively. “Some men don’t have much faith, but what they have, well, you’ll never take it from them. Others are strong in their faith, but it breaks so easy you have to wonder whether it was ever really there in the first place. Mike, here, was one of those. He started seeing the monsters hiding in plain sight, and it broke him.”


I frowned. “You mean the monsters? The werewolves, the vampires, that sort of thing?”


Loki shook his head. “Not really, no. It’s a bit like what you told Olivia, actually. Vampires are horrific monsters, sure, but that’s what they’re supposed to be. It’s so, so much worse for him when he sees a person doing things that would make your average werewolf sick. He saw that, and he realized that everyone has a monster inside of them. To know that the people he’d built his life around helping were capable of such atrocities? It broke him.” He grinned. “That gangster your werewolf friend mentioned, so casually, making deals with? Mike knows his work. And he’s seen how these people can get away with anything, anything they want, and the law can’t touch them. That’s what convinced him to join this little coterie.


“I think it’s being a shaman that’s his real problem,” Loki said thoughtfully. “Shamans make terrible warriors. They see too deeply, all the way to the heart of things. You can’t fight when you can see all the horrible things that made your enemy what they are now.” He sighed dramatically. “Let’s move on, shall we? This is depressing.”


Blink again. Loki was standing over one of the few I hadn’t been introduced to, and the soundtrack had switched to classic rock. Loki’s face was set in a broad, honest-looking smile. “Douglas Fir,” he said. “And he’s good with plants. Can you believe that? I mean, that’s his real name, even.” He paused, a musing expression on his face. “He’s the opposite of Matthew, there, you might say. He doesn’t believe in what they’re doing either, but he doesn’t do what he does for the joy of it. He’s here to protect them.”




“Because Doug here can’t stand to see a friend in pain,” he explained simply. “He’s a simple man, but good. It hasn’t occurred to him yet that he might have to protect them from themselves, but if it comes down to it he would.” He paused. “I just hope he doesn’t have to choose between his friends and the world. I think that might break him, and that would be a shame. Men like Doug are few and far between.


“Moving on, here’s his best friend Charles Moore. Better known as Chuck. Likewise a simple man, with simple tastes. Chuck’s twenty-eight, the oldest one of them. Works in an auto shop across town. The pay’s a joke, but he likes it well enough. Chuck’s never had much ambition. A lot like the bear he sometimes resembles, in many ways. All he really wants is a place to sleep, plenty of food, and a few friends to drink with. If he has time to spend chasing the ladies, something he’s never been much good at, that’s just icing on the cake. He likes a fight too, but he’s nothing like as twisted as Matthew. Or you, for that matter.”


“If Jimmy’s pride,” he said slowly, “and Matthew gets wrath, I think Chuck must be closer to sloth than the rest.” He paused. “You know, this whole ‘seven deadly sins’ idea is working out better than I thought it would. I’ll have to keep it in mind.”


“All right,” he said, turning around as though surveying the room. “Who’s left? Aha!” He took a couple long strides across the room to stand next to Kris. I noticed, absently, that now we were listening to upbeat salsa music, with lots and lots of maracas.


“Kristin Lake,” he said. “So like her fellow shapeshifters, and so unlike. An interesting conundrum, really. She doesn’t like violence, and yet she’s embraced it to a surprising extent. Did you know that no two of these people started down this road for the same reason?”


I blinked. “Really?”


“Yep,” he confirmed. “My idea of a joke, I suppose….Anyway, Kris here has the saddest reason of anyone, I think. She just wants not to hurt anymore. The first time she ever found her power was two years ago. She was sixteen, sitting and watching the sky, and thinking of how much she wanted to be free, free like a bird.” He laughed. “Got her wish a little closer than she probably expected. The next day she flew away and never went back. A runaway, and nobody tried very hard to find her.”


I blinked. I hadn’t expected that. “How’d she get from that to this?” I demanded.


“Chuck,” he explained simply. “She flew straight from…actually, I don’t think you need to know where she came from…straight to Colorado Springs. He found her about a week after she got here, in one of the bars he frequents. I think we can both imagine what she was doing there.” He paused. “I’m glad he did, actually. She deserves better than that. She would do anything for him, you know. After what he did, she would die or kill if he asked her, and never ask why. I think that will be what leads her into darkness, in the end. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.”


“Continuing with the theme,” Loki said, turning again. “We have Mr. Aubrey McArthur, our very own patron saint of envy. He went to the same school as Kris, but without the happy ending. Just one day after another of the same sad song. I’m sure you can guess most of it. Single mother, alcoholic. String of abusive boyfriends. Aubrey learned his lesson early. Trust no one…he lives it. Like Kris, he seeks not to be hurt, but his methods are very different. Where Kris finds her safety in friends and comradeship to keep away the things in the night, Aubrey relies only on himself. That, and nothing else, is why he seeks power, knowledge.”


I held up my hand, interrupting him. “Two things. One, why the envy then?”


“Because Aubrey’s talents aren’t all that powerful,” Loki said. “He has a flair for mental magic, not unlike what you do with animals. I’m sure you can imagine what a living hell that made his childhood.” I winced. “It’s not as bad as he makes it out to be, in his own mind—both Doug and Mike, for example, have less immediately useful talents. But he still looks at someone like Jimmie, or you for that matter, and he envies what they can do. A fire mage is strong, you see, can make himself safe. What is he? A glorified telephone.” Loki shrugged. “That’s what he thinks, anyway. Someday I expect he’ll learn better. Whether that will be a good thing is still up for grabs.”


I nodded. “Okay. Two, why help them if he’s so antisocial as all that?”


“Who said he’s antisocial?” Loki wondered aloud. “He’s not a bad person, per se, he just thinks everyone else is. A classical pattern for an ambivalent attachment style, really. He wants friends and looks for them, he just doesn’t trust them once he gets them, and usually drives them away pretty fast. This particular gang has stuck around because, honestly, with this much dysfunction around what’s a little more?” He paused. “Also, Aubrey is looking for enough power to defend himself. This is a good place to find that kind of thing.”


Loki shook his head like a dog shedding water. “Whew,” he said. “Okay. Next up, we have greed, otherwise known as Erica Reilly.”


I blinked. “Erica? I thought she was the one that warned Jon.”


“I made that up,” he said with a grin. “It seemed a convenient explanation for why Jon would know about your activities so soon. Although Erica did argue for contacting him, even after I persuaded the rest of them against the idea.”


“Somehow,” I said dryly, “I find it hard to believe that the embodiment of greed didn’t have any ulterior motives in arguing that point.”


“Of course not,” he agreed. “All of them had ulterior motives, that’s why they fell in with Jon so easily in the first place. She wants more, always more—not power, that’s not her addiction. Money, though, she loves money, tasteful paintings, handmade rugs….” Loki shook his head and looked at the blond woman with disgust in his eyes. “She, you see, is from the opposite side of the spectrum as Aubrey. She grew up with wealth and privilege. Her parents disowned her when her magic came in. Not that they believe in magic; they perceived the physical aspects as simple vandalism, the psychological as mental instability coupled with a drug habit.”


“I think I get it,” I said slowly.


“Excellent,” he said. “In that case, let us move on.” He snapped his fingers again. The music switched to techno, the room went dark, and Brick was highlighted with another spotlight. “Last one of my little club,” Loki said brightly. “But don’t worry, I saved the best for last.”


“I can’t wait,” I muttered.


He laughed. “They call him Brick, Brick Anderson. They don’t know his real name, wouldn’t recognize it if they heard it on the street. He hasn’t used it in, oh, more years than he wants to remember. That’s an impressive thing to say, when you’ve only just turned twenty-three. The rest have shared at least a little of their pasts with each other, but Brick here is still as enigmatic as ever. He knew more magic than they’ve ever learned before he met them, and he hasn’t shared much of it.”


“Where’d he learn?” I asked.


Loki grinned. “You’ve already guessed, haven’t you? Yes, Brick used to be in Olivia’s position. With another mage, of course, although one quite similar to Jon in many ways. He’s improved himself since then, but he still has the echo of that gluttony in his heart. He learned and did a lot of things that weren’t all that pleasant, things he regrets. He’s tried to forget it, been trying for years now, but he still has nightmares, almost every night. Eventually he decided he’d had enough and he tried to leave. Only to discover, as such people often do, that you can’t just walk away from a black mage.”


“How’d he get away?” I asked, morbidly curious.


Loki smiled nastily. “Who says he did?” He laughed. “Ah, just kidding. He made a bargain. Physically, at least, Brick is a free man, even if in his nightmares he’s still trapped there.”


I didn’t even want to know what the terms of that deal had been. “Thanks,” I said to Loki.


“Don’t know what you’re thanking me for,” he said modestly. Then, to my surprise, he kept going.


“Aiko Miyake,” he said. “As you should be aware by now, she’s the best pick for lust in this room. Not in the sexual sense, you understand, although there’s plenty of that at work as well. No, her sin was always to want all the things she couldn’t have, and discount the ones she could. As a child, even, she ignored the safety and security she had been gifted with, and sought out adventure and danger instead.”


“Nothing wrong with that,” I said defensively.


He raised one eyebrow. “No? Tell that to Aubrey. He would have sold his soul for what she had.” He shook his head briskly. “In any case. She’s an enigma, even to my eyes, and there aren’t many that can say that. She’s let you closer than anyone else, closer than anyone has ever come to the real her. She worries, sometimes, that she’s getting tied down, now that there’s finally something in her life that she couldn’t drop and run away from at a moment’s notice without any regrets. She wonders whether you’ll be the next to stab her in the back.”


“That’s what she’s been taught by life, you see,” he continued inexorably. “The opposite path from Aubrey’s, yet they converged on the same place. Don’t trust anyone wholly, because they’ll all betray you if they get a chance. Her instincts say to run away, you know, to run away from you right now before she starts to like you any more than she does now. She has to fight herself every day to keep from doing that. I expect it’ll be worse after today. For your sake, after all, she was ready to go alone into the lion’s den. Without even hesitating. There is no one else alive she extends that level of trust to, not even her own family.” He shook his head. “A priceless treasure, Winter. I hope you value it as much as it deserves to be valued.”


“And,” he said, turning to the last person sitting there. “Finally, we come to Mr. Enrico Rossi. I arranged for him to be here, just so we could have this talk.”


“Why?” I asked.


“Because,” Loki said grandly. “I like you, Winter. You’re amusing. I’d hate to see you die for no reason, especially in a boring way. And you have grossly misestimated Enrico. You think he helps you out of friendship, don’t you?”


I blinked. “You mean he doesn’t?”


“Some, some,” Loki allowed. “But the man is an absolutely marvelous actor. You even know that, you’ve seen it in action, and it still never occurred to you that he might be lying to you too.” He shook his head and, with a wave of his hand, changed the background music to the kind of dramatic song that plays during boss fights in video games.


“You see,” he said, “you are to him what I am to you. The eyes in the darkness, the grim face that you can’t predict and could never trust. He fears you. He guessed that you were a werewolf years ago, not that long after you met him. You knew that already, or guessed. But did you know that, since he first guessed, not a day has gone by that he doesn’t consider killing you, at least briefly?”


“Why hasn’t he?” I whispered. Enrico—or the Enrico I knew, at any rate—was usually a decisive man.


“At first because he couldn’t be sure. As they say, an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence, and he didn’t have any. Once he did, the situation became more complicated. First off, he couldn’t be sure, not really sure, that any given thing would kill you. And, as they also say, you’d be a fool to take a shot at the terrifying thing in the darkness if you aren’t planning to kill it. Plus, by that time, he’d come to know you, and he liked you. Also, he apparently wanted to be an actor, and now he thinks he’s playing Hamlet.”


“What about now?” I asked. “Is he still…considering…?”


“Oh, yes,” he said. “Very much so, in fact, even as we speak. You see, now that he is a werewolf, his perspective is somewhat changed. He still thinks of you as a dangerous monster, much more dangerous than the average werewolf—which he’s right about, by the way—but he also knows that there are even more dangerous monsters out there. So far he thinks you do more good than harm, protecting people from the worse things, and thus he leaves you alive. He follows the same course as he always has. He stays close to you, hides his true feelings, and watches. He watches, and waits, for the day that he has to kill you.”


Loki shook his head. “He likes you, Winter. But he is a defender of the people, first and foremost. He keeps his gun loaded with silver, these days, and it isn’t the pack he’s afraid of. You should be careful around your friend Enrico.”


“Okay,” I said after a moment. “I can live with that.” I paused. “So what do you have to say about me?”


He laughed, sadly and, for once, without that touch of insanity underneath. “Oh, Winter. You should know better. That isn’t the way it works. Why, imagine if I went around telling people about themselves all the time. The world would be so boring. I expect there’d be a lot more suicides, if nothing else.” He glanced around and waved his hand. Several things happened at once then. First off, all the plates and glasses rearranged themselves, several into truly amusing configurations. I particularly liked the glass of water upside-down on Jimmy’s head. At the same time, Loki vanished without a trace, taking the background music with him. And, finally, time started back up again.


I think the most irritating thing about Loki is his insistence on always having the last word.


“What the hell was that?” Aiko exclaimed. She was the first to get her mental feet under her again, by virtue of having an enormous daily dose of weird.


I sighed. “That,” I explained, “was Loki being himself.”


“Loki?” Mike asked. “Like, the Loki?”


“Yeah,” I sighed.


Mike swore, and the rest looked disturbed or confused according to whether they actually knew who Loki was. “Will we see him again?” Katie asked, somewhere in the middle.


“Pray that you don’t,” Aiko said heavily. “To the deity of your choice.”


I shrugged. “Not much you can do about it either way,” I said philosophically, going back to the food.


About half an hour later, Aiko stood up. “Well,” she said, “it’s been a pleasure and whatnot, but I think I’m out of here. I’m in the mood for a bit of a celebratory clicket.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Enrico asked.


Grinning, I stood up to leave, fetching Snowflake on the way. “Trust me, Enrico,” I said. “This is one of those questions you do not want to know the answer to.”

 Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.28

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Downstairs, things were a bit more hectic.


The mercenaries had apparently decided to fight after all. The constructs, of course, weren’t able to decide otherwise. They were gathered outside in a crowd, firing shots inside.


Luke and his gang were sheltered behind a short wall of stone that had been erected not far inside the front doorway, seemingly pulled up out of the granite floor. It should have been shattering under the sheer amount of firepower being directed at it, and the reason it wasn’t was pretty obvious. Brick, whose name was even more bizarrely appropriate than mine, was leaning against it, eyes closed in concentration, and earth-scented magic poured off him like heat from a bonfire.


I didn’t get a really good look at what the rest of them were doing. It was simply too chaotic to follow, too many energies flying to sort out. I saw fire pouring out in strikes that weren’t nearly as intense or focused as they had been when I left. Luke wasn’t showing the strain, but James looked barely able to stand. I didn’t know how he was still fighting. The shapeshifters I’d seen earlier were standing to either side of the door. When one of the clawed constructs—with steel claws, this time, rather than silver—darted through, I saw why. The bear fetched it a blow to the head with one paw. It looked casual, but it literally took the thing from its feet and tossed it sideways. The wolf was on it in an instant, just in case the first hit hadn’t been enough to kill it.


A grenade flew in the doorway and, caught in a sudden and powerful headwind, flew right back out. There was shouting on the other side, panicky and startled. Then there was another boom, a good bit quieter than Aiko’s custom model, followed by brief silence.


“Listen up,” I bellowed as loudly as I could into the pause. “Your employer’s dead. You aren’t getting paid enough to throw your lives away for no reason. Start running now, and you don’t have to.”


Luke glanced back at me, face flushed and exuberant and not in the slightest afraid. “Winter,” he called, laughter dancing just under the surface of his voice. “You finished it?”


“Yeah,” I shouted back, jogging forward to join them behind their improvised shelter. “Are they running?”


“Hard to say,” he said. “Aubrey?”


The quiet young man closed his eyes briefly. “Most of the mercenaries are. There are…six of them still here. I can’t feel the constructs.”


“They won’t run,” Luke said confidently. “What’s the word from our eye in the sky?”


Aubrey was silent for a moment, and I could feel a low, quiet pulse of magic from him. “Kris says they’re mostly broken,” he said eventually. “We’ve got about thirty constructs out there and another group just went in the back door. They’ll be on us in less than a minute.”


“Anything between us and the car?”


“Ah…she says just the ones right outside.”


“Wonderful,” Luke said, once again giving the impression of an orchestra conductor. “Jimmy, if you would.”


Hah. I was right.


The two fire mages turned their backs on the door. There was another surge of magic, one that went on longer than I had anticipated. Jimmy was swaying on his feet by the time they finished, but Luke didn’t even look like he was even making an effort. I had to wonder what he really was; he did not seem much like the rest of them. I would still say that they were largely untrained, relatively weak mages who didn’t seem particularly versatile, but Luke had to be at least as good as Alexander in terms of raw power.


“Wonderful,” he repeated, turning back to the door. “We’re running now. Wolf, if you want to live, I suggest you and yours come with us. Aubrey, kindly tell Mac to bring the car as close as she safely can.”


“What about the people outside?” someone asked. I thought it might be Katie.


Luke grinned. “They’re either constructs or idiots. In either case, killing them is a favor to the universe.” He paused. “We have less than a minute before this house goes up in flames. I recommend we get out now.”


Aiko muttered more curses, some in German and some in what I thought might be Arabic. Even Snowflake made an unusual growling sound, and mentally I heard her suggesting that Luke do several things which were extremely unsettling, conceptually, and also probably anatomically impossible. Especially the bit with the wombat, the porcupine, and the sausages. Even Aiko would think that one was a little over the top.


I settled for calling Tyrfing. The sword appeared literally in my hand, and I could feel its incredible hunger without even drawing it. I undid the clasp and threw the sword out the door. I saw that, by some incredible coincidence, it lost the sheath in midair and accidentally buried itself in somebody’s chest.


“Give that a minute to work,” I told the others.


“We don’t have a minute,” Luke reminded me.


We compromised at the thirty-second mark. Aiko chucked another grenade out, and in the aftermath of the explosion we ran for it.


There were dead constructs outside. Lots and lots and lots of them. They were burned, hit by shrapnel, shot by us or by each other, and in some cases dead without any mark to show what had happened. Mixed in among the corpses were more than a handful of human mercenaries. Other mercenaries, still standing, were running away. Trying to, anyway; mostly they slipped and staggered and fell, and made remarkably little progress. The combined effect of panic, fatigue, poor footing, and Tyrfing made it hard for them to keep their footing, let alone sprint.


The constructs, being essentially just robots, didn’t run. They didn’t feel fear, either. They attacked us with the same mindless ferocity as they had at the beginning, with guns and claws and their bare hands. We cut them down, in some cases literally, and kept moving.


Twenty seconds out the house behind us literally went up in smoke. It started small—flames visible through the windows, smoke leaking out of them, that kind of thing. Within another ten seconds or so, though, it had accelerated into a full blown conflagration.


A red-tailed hawk stooped out of the sky above us. I felt magic building as it came, and when it was about ten feet from the ground the power released in a sudden and surprisingly powerful surge. The falling hawk morphed in a blur of color, every bit as fast as Aiko changing, and the shape that hit the ground wasn’t a bird at all. Kris landed in an easy roll and came to her feet. “Last group is still after us,” she said without preamble, keeping up easily. “You got a few of them in the house, but most of them made it out.”


“Not a problem,” Luke said. “Without Jon, they’ll die within a week. All we have to do is get out of here and we’ll be fine. Speaking of which, there’s our ride.”


Their ride, as it turned out, was a big white step van. It was about a hundred yards from the house, a distance we covered at a speed that would make some sprinters envious. It’s amazing, really, what raw terror does for your adrenaline.


Luke took over driving, while the rest of us piled into the back. It was a little crowded, especially with Snowflake and Legion packed in, but none of us were complaining. Fortunately both the other shapeshifters had also reverted to human. The bear, as it turned out, was Chuck, while the wolf turned into Matthew. Luke drove out much, much faster than was really safe. We didn’t complain about that either. Especially not after there was a sound behind us like a small bomb going off.


“You know,” I said, “when I talked about raining down fire and destruction, I didn’t actually mean it literally.”


“That’ll teach you to joke around,” Luke said brightly. “Oh, Mac? Would you mind taking a look at our guests? Also, someone should call the fire department. I’d hate to start another wildfire.”


The tall blond woman who had been driving before Luke took over looked at me. “You’re injured?” She closed her eyes, and then let out a surprised breath. “Wow. You are injured.”


“Nothing that won’t heal,” I demurred.


She opened her eyes and glared at me. “You know how often I hear that?” she demanded. “And how often it gets infected, and they come back, and it’s ten times more trouble than if they’d just gotten it looked at when I told them to?”


I blinked, and then realized what Luke had meant. “Ah. You must be the healer.”


“I’m a nurse,” she said in precise, clipped tones. “The magic is incidental.”


“Right. You ever done work on a werewolf before?”


“No. Willing to give it a try?”


I shrugged. “What the hell. Why not.”


At that point, nothing would do but that I strip down to my skivvies, lie down in the back of the van, and let Mac do…whatever it was she did. I could smell the magic, like growing grass and blood, and even feel it sliding through my body, but I had no idea what it was actually doing. It must have worked, because when she was finished I wasn’t stiff or sore anymore, and even the burns and cuts were feeling better. She was good at that trick.


It made me feel better when she made everyone else—except Legion—go through the same process. It was especially amusing when she did it to Snowflake, because the dog complained bitterly and with a plethora of obscenity to me. I managed to keep myself from laughing, in the interest of not seeming like a total loon, but it was a struggle.


Which was silly, and immature, and pretty reckless considering we were surrounded by mages who had wanted to kill me not that long ago, but screw it. After surviving that ordeal, I’d earned it.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.27

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


The four of us made another mad dash through the house, up the stairs to the second floor. We found another guard patrol there. They panicked when they saw us, going for their guns. Aiko was faster, had already drawn a bead on them before they had the weapons clear of their holsters. I held up one hand to forestall her shooting.


“Think real careful about this, boys,” I said to the mercenaries. “Your contract really worth this much? We’re out of your weight class. Now get you gone, or we’ll visit the wrath of us on your head.”


The two men ran. Aiko looked at me curiously, measuring, but said nothing.


Finally we reached the third floor. The landing of the stairs opened into a small balcony. In front of us was a wall with a single oak door set in it. We opened it and found….


“What are you doing here?”


Samuel Black smiled and flipped another card over. “Work,” he said simply, not bothering to stand up. He was playing solitaire at a small table next to another door. I knew, somehow, that Jon would be on the other side.


I raised one eyebrow. “Isn’t this job a little lowbrow for you?”


He said nothing, didn’t pause in his game.


“Okay,” Aiko said after a moment, “be that way. We need to get through here.”


“Ah,” Black said. “I can’t let you do that.”


I suddenly realized, with a sinking feeling, what was going on. “He didn’t hire you to fight. Did he?”


“No. The contract was that I would watch this door.”


That was the thing about hiring Samuel Black. He wouldn’t ever break a contract, would sooner be tortured to death—but, at the same time, he wouldn’t do more than he was contracted for. Most of the time that was a limitation—if, for example, you forgot to ask him not to talk, he would gladly tell anyone who paid what you were doing. On the other hand, it meant that not even a full-scale battle would get him to abandon his post.


“Okay,” I said after a moment. “You get your money already?”


“Half up front,” he said dispassionately, flipping over another card. “Half on completion.”


“I’ll double it.”


“Even if I thought you were capable of that,” he said, “which you’re not, I don’t break contract.”


I licked my lips. “Even if he won’t be holding up his end?”


He paused. “You have evidence?”


“The Khan will have gotten my message by now,” I told him. “By this time tomorrow, the Pack will be coming down on his head like a ton of bricks. So will the mage clans and at least one vampire. This isn’t a good place to be when that happens.”


Black relaxed and resumed playing. “That’s an excellent reason not to take another job from him. Not such a good reason to quit this one.”


I got an idea. “But you won’t take another contract from him,” I said. “So…if he told you to kill us….”


“I would tell him that I’m not contracted to do that,” he said coolly. “Unless, of course, you were to try and go through this door.”


“And that’s all,” I said. “So…for example…if we attacked him….”


Black smiled sharply. “That,” he said, “wasn’t covered in the contract.”


I nodded. “Aiko,” I said. “Could you pass me a grenade, please?”


She shrugged. “Sure.”


“Thanks.” I pulled the pin and then rolled the grenade over to the door.


“What the hell!” Aiko shouted. She grabbed my arm and pulled me back out of the antechamber, yanking me down to shelter behind the wall.


A second or two later, there was a surprisingly loud boom. Like, it even shook the floor a little.


Back inside, the door was gone. So was the frame. And, um, a good portion of the wall around it. Black and his table, for whatever reason, were untouched, although the mercenary looked rather startled.


“Damn,” I muttered. “Nice grenade.”


“It’s an advanced model,” she said modestly.


I cleared my throat. “Look,” I said in my best pointing-out-the-obvious voice. “The door’s gone.” I paused. “Wait a second,” I said disingenuously. “Does that mean you can let us through now?”


Black started to speak, stopped, then shook his head and chuckled. “I like your style, Wolf. Sure, why not.” He shook his head again, gathered up the cards, and began to shuffle.


We proceeded through a small library into Jon’s inner sanctum.


“Interesting,” he said, not looking up from the book he was reading. “You’re better than I thought, Wolf. I wouldn’t have expected you to bypass my defenses that easily.”


“He likes me,” I said. Aiko lifted her carbine and began to sight along it. I shook my head slightly; it wouldn’t be that easy.


Jon was standing in a set of circles not unlike that I had drawn out in the forest, but far more elaborate. The outermost was a simple ring of silver set into the floor, followed by an elaborate pattern of runes laid out in stone and exotic wood. Within that was another pair of circles, one a permanent fixture made of bronze, the other recently laid down in iron and silver chains.


Looking at that, I realized that I knew what this was. This had been the ritual setup he was planning to use to consume me. Looking at it in that light, it was sorta creepy. I’d been in bad situations before, but that ticking-clock feeling had been new and unpleasant.


I frowned. I had the distinct feeling that there was a reason he wasn’t worried about having a gun pointed at his face. And, sure, I could have done some work and concentrated and figured out what all spells he had up and running….


But, really, why bother?


I looked around for a moment and located a chunk of wood from the door. I bounced it in my hand a couple times, feeling the heft of it, then chucked it right at Jon’s smiling face.


Needless to say, it never hit him. Exactly halfway across the outermost circle it bounced off air seemingly turned to stone. A kinetic barrier, undoubtedly—and, given an unknown length of time to prepare and a permanent circle to work with, there was no telling how strong it was.


Aiko knew what it meant as well as I did. “Grenade?” she murmured. “Take it out by main force?”


I shook my head very slightly. “Even if it worked, the circle is the only thing keeping him from killing us. He can’t do any magic out here without dropping it, thus giving us a shot at him.” Circles are, after all, simple magical fences. And fences keep things in, as well as out. Ordinarily it isn’t too hard to project magic across a circle, but he’d charged this one with a lot of power. It would attenuate any spell he tried to cast to the point that it became powerless.


The kitsune nodded. “Mexican standoff.”


“Except he’s got a lot more friends here than we do.” I frowned, then projected a simple mental communication. Very, very quietly, to be sure that Jon wouldn’t hear it. I didn’t think he could detect even an obvious magical action from inside the circles, but I didn’t see a great need to test that. Behind me, Snowflake started to circle around behind the mage.


“Where’s my stuff?” I asked aloud.


“I destroyed it,” he said calmly. Then, seeing my expression, he laughed, a smooth and confident sound. “What? You expected it to be nearby, I suppose? Protected only by a single, easily picked lock, I suppose.” He shook his head. “I’m not a fool, Wolf. And I have read the Evil Overlord List. I examined your foci briefly—excellent job on those, by the way—and destroyed them.”


“Dammit,” I muttered. “You have any idea how much work those took?”


“Of course I do. Also, you can’t really expect a dog to get through that barrier, can you?”


“Not particularly,” I agreed. “On the other hand….”


A skeleton animated by unwholesome power and driven by an inhuman will left the ground directly behind Jon’s back, passing through the barrier around the mage without even slowing. Legion was, after all, an entity of decay and corruption, chaos and destruction. As he leapt he directed his power, his nature, against Jon’s magic, converting the ordered structures that made up his spell back into the chaotic and formless energy they had originally come from.


He hit the ground within the circle and started to leap again. Jon, with a shout of startled anger, knocked him aside easily with a blast of force.


But for one moment, he wasn’t paying any attention to us at all. And the barrier had fallen.


The instant Legion jumped, I started moving. I sprinted across the gap between us, calling Tyrfing as I went. The cursed sword appeared in my hand, and I undid the catch without breaking stride.


Jon turned to face me. His face went pale, and he lifted his hands. I felt the stirrings of magic as he began to gather power for another strike. I flicked Tyrfing to the side, sending the sheath flying, and drew the sword back for a strike.


Behind me, I heard a gunshot. A moment later, blood started spreading across Jon’s shirt. He staggered to the side, and the magic he’d gathered dissipated harmlessly.


I’d finally made it within reach. Tyrfing descended, mirror-bright steel cutting a beautiful arc across the air.


Somehow, Jon managed to recover his focus in time. I felt a quick burst of power, unfocused and clumsy, and Tyrfing bounced off a barrier maybe three inches from the mage’s skin. He staggered away from me. I heard another gunshot, and a spray of blood erupted from his shoulder.


I stepped forward, taking my sword in both hands, and brought it down in an overhand strike at his head. He held the barrier against it, but grunted with pain as he did. A moment later another bullet hit him. Blood spattered the floor, and something in his knee went out with a nasty sound of ripping cartilage. The mage fell, landing hard on his back.


I stood over him, sword in both hands. On the first swing the barrier cracked, and Jon screamed in pain and terror. On the second swing, Tyrfing shattered the barrier like a pane of glass.


On the third swing, Jon collapsed in a rapidly growing pool of blood. His head rolled away, coming to rest with the eyes staring at me reproachfully.


I stared back for a few moments. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to feel. Satisfied, maybe. Maybe even guilt, or at least regret.


There was none of that. I just felt numb.


I found the sheath and put Tyrfing away. Then I limped over to where Aiko was standing, her carbine still trained on Jon’s corpse. I’d aggravated the damage to my left leg, and it was slowing me down, but I didn’t think it would cause me any long-term problems.


Samuel Black walked in the door behind us. “The hubris of some people,” he said sadly. “It never ceases to amaze, does it?” He walked by me, shaking his head with disappointment. “For someone so clever, he was an incredible fool. Excellent work, Wolf. I’ll be sure to tell my employer you did well here.”


“Wait. What employer?”


He smiled and swept a mocking half-bow in my direction. He straightened and, much like Loki had earlier, vanished without a trace.


I hate it when everyone I meet knows better tricks than me.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.26

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


The lot of us marched down the narrow, brightly lit concrete hallway. There was no one there, not that any of us could detect. The part of me that has entirely the wrong priorities noticed that Aiko’s veil was visible from the inside. It rendered shading and texture outside the area of effect oddly warped, almost flat-looking.


There was one door at the other end of the hall. We all crowded around it, straining to sense anyone on the other side. I couldn’t feel a presence with magic, not that I dared to extend myself much here. Snowflake didn’t hear or smell anything. Legion…presumably would have done something to indicate it if he had detected someone.


Aiko eased the door open, and we let out a collective sigh of relief when there was nobody in the staircase thus revealed. That was one of the major drawbacks to this kind of concealment. If doors started opening and closing when there was no one around, it would rapidly become obvious that something was funky. And, like I’d told Kyra, no spell of concealment can ever be truly perfect. If someone really looked at us, our cover would probably be blown.


We repeated the same performance at the top of the stairs. There was a guard on the other side who was, in all probability, currently looking at the door. We waited for a long, tense minute, a stalemate made even worse by the fact that only one party was aware of it.


Eventually I felt a shift in the air patterns, and I knew that he’d moved. We slipped through, making no more noise than a cat through the grass, and closed the door behind ourselves. The room we found ourselves in was relatively large, with one visible doorway to our right. It currently had a guard standing on either side of it. No way to take them out without causing a ruckus.


I gestured to get Aiko’s attention—no speech, that would get us caught in an instant—then pointed at myself, then the guard to the left of the doorway, then flashed thirty fingers at her. She nodded, almost imperceptibly, and began working her way around the edge of the room toward the guard on the right.


I went the other way, spinning my own concealment around myself as I went. It was a totally different method than hers, all about weaving shadows into an impenetrable cloak around myself. Visually, it would render me one more patch of darkness in a dimly lit room. And, thanks to all the practice I’d been getting in recently, it would also do a bit to muffle any sounds I might happen to make. It was harder, without the ring I used as a focus for shadow-based magic, but not undoable.


I worked my way around through the shadows at the edge of the room. I had to move with agonizing slowness to be sure of going unnoticed. Halfway through I had to speed up, because otherwise I wouldn’t be in time. I had the longer distance to travel, to get to my target.


I made it in time. And, when my count was at twenty-eight, the other guard suddenly jerked to one side. A knife flashed into visibility as it darted forward and carved a broad, bloody grin across the man’s throat. He dropped, gasping like a landed fish and pouring out blood across the marble floor.


My guard opened his mouth—to scream, to call the alarm, I would never know. In the same instant I darted forward, abandoning my shadows as I moved. One arm snaked around his neck in an eerie echo of Snowflake’s earlier attack, clamping down on his mouth. The other plunged the glittering tip of the icicle into the side of his neck, just under the ear, where the carotid artery was close to the surface.


It was a crap weapon but, let’s be honest, that’s more than you need most of the time anyway. I drove it into his neck until half the length of the icicle was buried before I jerked it sideways, ripping the wound open and snapping the icicle off in my hand.


I held the thug up, holding my hand tightly over his mouth, and as I did I recognized him. He had been one of the men who’d hooked the restraints back up after my chat with Jon, the one who had disapproved of needless cruelty.


It’s been a while since I was disturbed by blood or death. But I suddenly felt nauseous, like I was about to lose a meal that I hadn’t even eaten. I stepped back, letting him reel to the side and slide down the wall. The broken icicle fell from my hand and landed in the scarlet pool slowly spreading across the floor. The ice refracted the light weirdly, making it hard to tell quite what you were seeing through it.


He hadn’t been my enemy. He was just doing a job. Probably had a wife and kids—or, at least, a lover, parents, people counting on him to bring home a paycheck. He didn’t like his job. Had tried, in some small way, to spare me something of the pain that I had experienced today. Had tried to be a decent human being, as well as he was able.


And I’d just killed him, for no better reason than that he was in my way. His blood was quite literally on my hands, like a visual aid to describe how thoroughly wrong things had gone.


Easy to see that I was on the wrong path. Harder to find the right one.


Aiko asked if I was all right. I said that I was, and we continued onward.


It went great right up until we were on the stairs to the second floor. Suddenly, no opportunity to hide or dodge, a pair of constructs turned the corner onto the staircase above us. They weren’t quite as grotesque as the one I’d dispatched before, but they were still very obviously not human. One of the things narrowed its eyes, looking at the faint not-quite-rightness where we were. Its mouth opened.


Aiko shot it, and its fellow. That little carbine was the kind of weapon civilians aren’t allowed to have, and for a good reason. It was small enough to fit under a hoodie, never mind a trench coat, and in less time than it takes to shout a warning she’d shot both constructs three times. One, having taken two bullets to the head, dropped right where it stood. The other, although the three holes in its chest would quickly prove lethal, lived long enough to scream.


“There goes the advantage of surprise,” Aiko snarled. “What do we do?”


I considered the odds that remained against us. An unknown number of soldiers, an unknown number of constructs, and a mage of unknown but potent capability. Not good odds, in other words. I made a snap decision. “We run. Where’s the entrance?”


She nodded once, sharply. “Follow me.”


We turned tail and ran like…not little girls, we had more direction and purpose than that, but something that runs, at any rate. Rabbits, maybe.


It was a hectic race. We were making no effort at all to go undetected, and Aiko set a pace that was at the very upper edge of my capabilities. Snowflake was panting behind me, although she kept pace easily enough. Legion, as always, was utterly silent, although his skeletal footsteps fell with force that should, in a logical universe, have done some damage to the unsupported bones.


We turned one corner, another, another, too fast to keep up with, dizzying. I didn’t even try to keep track of the turnings, trusting Aiko to know where we were going.


Eventually, we turned one last corner and saw the big glass door. And my heart sank.


We hadn’t been fast enough.


There were a dozen or so mercenaries between us and the door, aiming various kinds of ugly in our direction. Another half-dozen constructs, hulking things with snakes’ eyes, filled out their ranks. Two of them had silver claws where their hands should have been. The others were holding guns more or less like their human counterparts’.


We pulled up short. More than a dozen gun barrels were aimed at us, and I knew that there would be no offer of surrender here, no mercy, no chance to talk our way out. They would shoot us in just moments, and up against so many not even the four of us would have much of a chance. I can do a lot of things, but stopping bullets isn’t one of them. The armor couldn’t stand up against that much firepower, either.


My hand found Aiko’s without either of us doing anything consciously. Nice knowing you, I thought, though I didn’t have time to say it aloud. Nice knowing all of them, really. I just regretted that I would be dragging them down with me.


And, right about that time, the newest player entered the field.


There was a sudden explosion in the back ranks of the mercenaries, as though someone had thrown a hand grenade. A blast of fire and light. A great force, sending people staggering. An enormous cloud of smoke plumed up.


Through the smoke walked Luke Laufson.


He didn’t look like a kid anymore. He just looked scary. Fire crawled along his arms from fingertip to shoulder, climbing and shifting. It seemed to dip into his flesh and rose six inches from the skin, looking absolutely terrifying. A cloak of flame cascaded down his back and pooled around his feet. He obviously should have been in agony, burning to a crisp, and he just as obviously wasn’t.


The mercenaries chose the better part of valor—which, in the face of such an overwhelming and terrifying force, was definitely the smart thing to do. The constructs, lacking human intelligence, threw themselves either at him or at us. Some of them were struck down with fire more intense than I had ever seen someone conjure. The rest learned, as their fellows had earlier, that firearms are actually just as dangerous as magic, in the right hands. The last couple turned and ran alongside the humans.


“I thought you didn’t call him,” I whispered to Aiko under cover of this distraction.


“I didn’t,” she hissed back, taking aim and sending a quick burst of bullets into a fleeing construct.


“Winter,” Luke shouted, his voice roaring with mad laughter. “How you doing?”


“We need to get out of here,” I shouted back. “There have to be reinforcements coming.”


He cocked his head to one side, then nodded. “He has a bloody army out here. I’m reading…sixty-five constructs currently active? And he has more coming online.”


Aiko said some very creative and very, very impolite things under her breath in German. I only recognized them because one of the things Dolph had taught me when I was younger was how to swear in a dozen different languages, most of which I knew literally no other words of.


“We have to leave,” I said again, darting a glance behind myself.


Luke laughed again. “You have a job to do, Wolf. He’s still on the third floor.”


“You don’t get it,” I said. “We can’t beat that many.”


He grinned, wide and insane and with very little humor, and I almost recognized him then. “Can’t we?” he said, challengingly.


As though on cue—which they might have been—figures began filing in the open doors. James had fire dripping off his hands too, though not anything like what Luke had been throwing around. Katie, almost unrecognizable behind the darkness that wreathed her like a cloak, held a short wooden wand which burned with an eerie violet light. Her magic felt familiar, and I realized that she was doing something not unlike my own work with shadows, though hers was a little less subtle than what I’d used it for.


And more of them came after. A wolf, not as physically imposing as a werewolf but moving with the same uncanny intelligence, followed by a polar bear. Shapeshifters, I assumed. One after another, too much to process and no time to spare for thinking about it, in any case. The clashing scents of their magic was harsh, jarring to my senses.


Luke grinned, the expression mad and twisted, flexing his fingers. The fire seemed to respond to the movement, flaring up so bright that he was briefly nothing more than a silhouette amid golden flames. “We’ll hold the doors. Go get this done.”

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.25

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Do you ever find yourself harboring an intense and abiding hatred of irony? I do. Although, at least on this occasion, I thought I might be better off blaming Loki than the generalized malice of the universe. Bad timing is one thing, but there’s only so much coincidence can account for.


Generally speaking, opening your eyes right before somebody punches you in the face is not one of them.


I was even more uncomfortable than before, of course, my shoulders and knees starting to ache. I was covered in a cold, clammy sweat from the strain of the magic I’d done, which was good. With luck they would assume that it was from terror, and therefore not question why I had seemed so unconcerned.


It helped that, within a few seconds of coming awake, I wasn’t anything like unconcerned. One of Jon’s hired thugs had just slammed his fist into the side of my head, not hard enough to break anything but hard enough to hurt. A lot.


I snarled viciously and went at him like an irritated bobcat, clawing his eyes out. Or, at least, that’s what happened in my head. In reality all I managed was the snarl. When I tried to fight back I was brought up short by the sudden and intense pain in my shoulders. It felt like the joints were on the verge of dislocation.


The thug grinned. It was an ugly expression, both in terms of the actual appearance and in the sense of what it meant for my immediate future. Some mercenaries aren’t bad people. The Midnight Sidhe called Samuel Black, for example, wasn’t too unpleasant. He was cold, uncaring, and ruthless, but not evil. Evil was unprofessional.


This guy was the other type. He liked hurting people. In fact, I was pretty sure that was why he’d become a mercenary in the first place. Not because the pay was good. He just got off on inflicting pain.


I feel no great desire to chronicle what happened next. In any case, you can almost certainly imagine it. There were burns, bruises, and mild lacerations aplenty. The burns were the worst of it. I hate being burned.


Nothing that wouldn’t heal, so far. It might or might not leave a mark, scarring in werewolves being a strange and unpredictable thing. But it was painful and, almost worse, it was degrading. I’d experienced unpleasant things before, of course, that goes without saying, but this was a new and horrific flavor. Having never before been involved in torture from either end, I was surprised at how debasing the experience was.


There was no use of silver, which baffled me at the time. I mean, everybody knows that silver is painful to werewolves these days. I didn’t understand why Jon wouldn’t have some on hand. In retrospect, of course, it makes perfect sense. The effect of silver on a werewolf is, after all, magical rather than purely physical. Jon didn’t want to do anything to harm my power. He was planning on consuming it later.


Time once again seemed to stretch and twist. The experience was interminable, unending, hardly better when nothing was happening than when I was in pain.


It still has a prominent position in my nightmares, matter of fact.


Eventually, there was a pause. The thug stepped out briefly. When he came back, he had a can of soda. He leaned against the wall, drinking it, and smiling with satisfaction.


That was a minor point, though, quickly dismissed. Because I smelled something in the air, something familiar, subtle yet oddly potent. I grinned, although it made my face ache a little.


“Hey,” I said. “Nice work. You have excellent technique.”


The man stood and sipped his drink. He said nothing.


“I have a deal for you,” I said. “You take these restraints off and start running, and maybe I’ll be so happy I decide to forgive you.”


“No,” he said calmly. “You wouldn’t.”


“Probably not,” I admitted. “Still. You leave now, I might be too busy to catch you. Best chance you have, really.”


He crushed the can and carelessly tossed it into the corner. “Sounds like you need another lesson on who’s in charge here,” he said, advancing on me. There was an ugly light in his eyes.


I grinned wider. “I’m not the only one. Now would be good, if you please.”


Snowflake just appeared in midair behind him.


And she looked very, very angry.


She was already moving when she appeared, and she didn’t stop. She hit the man in the back of the head, feet first, bearing him forward and down. She kept moving, flinging her hindquarters around his head. Her flank hit him in the face, muffling anything he might have said in fur. Even as they were falling, her momentum carried her forward and around, snapping his neck like a toothpick.


It was sort of weird, seeing such a classic method of assassination adapted for a canine body. Effective, though, undeniably. And, much like the human version, it was quiet.


He was, if not dead, most certainly already dying when he hit the ground. He died quickly, and he died confused.


A moment later, Aiko’s veil flickered and collapsed. As a young kitsune (young by kitsune standards, anyway), she wasn’t very powerful. But her kind has a natural talent for illusion, and she’s good at it. If it hadn’t been for that whiff of fox-and-spice scented magic, I would never have guessed that they’d slipped in behind the goon when he came in with the soda.


“Nice timing,” I grunted. “You have much trouble getting in?”


She shrugged, coming closer. “Not so much. More tedious than anything.” She suddenly saw my various injuries and froze. For an instant, before she closed down again, her face was suffused with utter and murderous wrath.


The kitsune looked down at the torturer. “He dead?” she asked, her voice dangerously and deceptively calm.




She spat on the body—literally, I mean, and she made the gesture look serious instead of like some kind of pantomime. “Lucky bastard, ” she muttered. “I’d have done worse.”


“Look,” I said, “I appreciate the dramatic moment and all, but would you mind letting me out of here?”


She grinned. “I don’t know,” she said mock-seriously. “The situation does look sort of interesting….” Thus proving that there really is no situation too inappropriate for a kitsune to crack jokes.


I sighed. “Aiko….”


“All right, all right,” she said unrepentantly. Snowflake watched the door while Aiko undid the various manacles and bands holding me in place.


I sat up, wincing and rubbing my shoulders. My arms had long since gone to sleep, and if I were human I probably would have had to worry about long-term circulatory problems. On the other hand, just being able to move was such a relief, it was hard to complain.


Sitting up also brought the last member of the rescue party into view. Legion, as enigmatic and silent and statue-like as before, was standing in the shadows where they’d been waiting. His total stillness, coupled with the black fog around the bones, made him very nearly as hard to see as if he’d still been under Aiko’s concealment spell.


That might be useful, at some point.


“Glad you made it,” I grunted, stretching limbs long since gone stiff. “Anybody see you on the way in?”


“Please,” she said scornfully. “Nobody sees me. Or the freakish canine menagerie you’ve acquired, if they’re with me.”


“Given that you’re canine number three in the menagerie,” I said dryly, “I’d be more careful talking about it if I were you.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay. In my professional opinion, something needs to be done here.”


“Really?” she shot back caustically. “‘Cause in my amateur opinion, that statement puts you in the running for ‘Understatement of the Week.’ Fortunately I came prepared.”


“Yeah, I noticed the armor.”


Rather than answer me, she just smirked and snapped her fingers. She pointed at the ground, and Legion obediently trotted forward. A cheap, small black backpack was gripped carefully between his teeth. Aiko—or, possibly, Snowflake—must have worn it in here, then dropped it when the action looked about ready to start.


“You’re awesome.” Grinning, I bent down and went through the bag, quickly.


First thing out was a set of clothes, which I immediately put on. It was just an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt, both mine, but it was still better than doing this commando in any more senses of the word than was absolutely necessary. Most of the armor was there, as well, and I couldn’t deny that the weight of it was comforting. It was probably inaccurate, considering what we were up against, but the protection it afforded still felt pretty nice.


Aiko had remembered more offensive gear, as well. There was my backup pistol, a .44. A decent gun, but most of the time I wasn’t willing to rely on a revolver in a sticky situation. I belted it on anyway, under the premise that a moderately useful weapon was better than none. Another pouch of my specially prepared dust, which I hung around my neck where I could reach it quickly. Also, a few small metal objects that I was pretty sure were….


“Hand grenades?” I demanded.


She shrugged. “I know a guy in the black market. Speaking of which, mind handing me the gun?”


I drew her carbine out and handed it to her. I didn’t bother checking whether it was loaded, because it was Aiko I was dealing with. Of course it was. She sighed happily, petting the muzzle of the weapon like a puppy. “Thanks. Thing would have gotten in the way sneaking in here, but I think I want it for the next part.” She slung the gun across her chest.


I looked in the pack, which was empty now except for the grenades. “No knife?” I asked. Her own blade, a slim one-edged Japanese model called a tanto, was prominently displayed her belt. At least she’d left the sword at home this time around.


“Nope,” she said. “I figured, if you want an edged weapon, you can just summon that sword of yours. Why carry it in?”


I frowned. “That won’t work,” I said absently, considering various options. “Tyrfing’s magic’s too strong. Draw it here, in the man’s own house, there’s an excellent chance he’ll know.”


“Oh. Oops. Uh…you want to take mine, or….”


I held up one hand for silence. “Hang on,” I said, still not really paying attention. “Something I want to try.” I concentrated on my hand, reached for power, and tried something I’d never really done before.


Recently, when I used my magic, it had occasionally generated frost. It drew water from the air, which condensed and froze around me. Ice, basically, which was for some reason generated by my use of power—or, at least once, from my simple presence.


I’d never actively tried to produce it, though. It was a trick, especially because I was deliberately not using any magic. I couldn’t think of how to reproduce the effect without doing so, but—inexplicably, undeniably—I knew that it was possible.


I thought about the first time it had happened, while we were escaping from Ryujin’s palace—and don’t miss the parallels there, God, you crazy sadist. It had been like stretching, like digging down deeper into myself than I had ever really gone before, like reaching into the depths of my soul and dragging out…what?


Power. Power and a cold, savage mentality that reminded me, to an uncomfortable extent, of Legion. Or, maybe a little more accurately, of the wolf that was Snowflake’s darker half. Ruthless practicality, cruel and feral hunger, and a disregard for those outside my pack so profound it was almost beautiful. The mind of a starving wolf. Something, I could feel instinctively, that had been born from necessity, from a crueler and colder and more savage world than I could really begin to understand.


Ten thousand years of winter, an icy voice seemed to whisper in my mind. I could, just barely, recognize it as my own. Ten thousand years of winter in your blood, the darkness and the cold and nobody to ask for help….


I shivered and cut it off, opening my eyes. What I saw was…unsettling.


My body was covered in frost. It had coated me from head to toe, spread across the floor, plugged my ears and filled my mouth like a snow cone. When I shifted my weight it made a crunching, crackling sound, like packing down snow. There were literally tiny icicles hanging from my nostrils, lips, from the edge of my shirt and the hem of my jeans.


And I wasn’t cold. Not even a little. Not externally, at least. Inside I could feel that voice, that terrible cold voice that was still mine, echoing inside my head.


I concentrated on my upraised hand, focusing my will instinctively in a way that I didn’t even begin to actually understand. Frost melted, shifted, flowed, and gathered, directed by my instruction.


A minute or so later, all the water that had condensed out of the air onto me had migrated to my hand. More specifically, it had concentrated into a single, relatively massive icicle, defying all logic by growing up out of my palm. It kept growing, until it was about six inches long and an inch wide at the base, narrowing to a literally needle-sharp point. I broke it off with my other hand.


It didn’t seem like normal ice. It didn’t slip around in my grip, for one thing. It wasn’t cold. And, most telling, it didn’t melt. Not normal ice behavior at all.


Unless, you know. It was me that wasn’t quite normal.


“Nice trick,” Aiko said, staring at the improv dagger with open envy. “You never told me you could do that.”


“I never knew I could,” I said, shrugging. “Not ’til just now. Shall we get a move on?”


“What’s the plan?” she asked, shouldering the near-empty pack.


I chewed my lip for a moment. “We can’t fight Jon and his goons at the same time. Therefore, the goons must go.”


“Lethal force?”


“I’m not seeing much of a choice on that. I don’t have a way to get them all to leave, except by killing them.”


She nodded. “Right, then. This is the basement level. I’m pretty sure Jon’s on the top floor, four levels up.”


“Figures,” I muttered. “As Conn likes to say, mages are like cats. They’re never comfortable unless they’re looking down on somebody.” I gestured grandiosely at the door with my icicle. “After you, m’lady.”


She made a rude gesture and opened the door, drawing her magic into a concealing shroud around us again as she did. The sorta-dogs crowded on our feet as we left.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.24

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


I did not so much awaken as piece myself together. Damn, but I felt awful.


I seemed to be back in my own body, which was clearly impossible. For one thing, I didn’t appear to be back in my cell. I was instead standing on the top of a lonely, isolated stone tower. All around me the darkness seemed to stretch forever, lit only by the stars above my head. Said stars burned with a pure, steady light, cold and white as Arctic frost.


Oh yeah, and Aiko was standing right next to me. That was a definite hint that something wacky was going on.


“Winter?” she said, sounding very confused. “What’s going on?”


“Give me a minute,” I said. “Feel like my head’s full of cotton.”


Below us, the tower melded into a mountain. The walls of the building, like the rooftop parapet we were on, were totally bare, Spartan, even desolate. The mountain, though…its slopes were covered in thick conifer forest, right down to the base of the peak where it ran into the sea. There was no other land in sight, no people, no sign that humans had ever seen this place. The forests seemed grim, full of dark and hostile shadows. Just looking at them I had to fight the urge to shudder, and I normally like the forest at night. The ground between the trees was covered with thick, pale mists, which seemed to swirl slowly in the breeze. The movement seemed odd, almost purposeful, with an inexplicable air of malice. The mists seemed to have an animus to them, giving an impression of volition and of awareness.


And then I suddenly realized what this reminded me of. “This is the spirit world, isn’t it?” I asked, squeezing my eyes shut against the eerie, disturbing sentience that the island seemed to be pervaded with.


“That’s what you called it,” she agreed. “Our word for it is…hard to translate, now that I think about it. The closest English word might be Nowhere. Or Everywhere. Or Somewhere Else.” She paused meditatively. “It’s kind of a Zen word.”


Okay. This was starting to make more sense.


Like I said before, there are tons and tons and tons of ways to go to the spirit world. The maddening thing is that, depending on which way you use, you might end up in a totally different world.


When I’d gone in, I hadn’t just taken the safest route. I’d only traveled a very short distance along it, in the greater scheme of things. More into the borderland than a total transition, really. I mean, I’d still been seeing the physical. That’s a definite indicator that you haven’t really left.


This was an entirely different way of approaching it. It was, essentially, a representation of Aiko’s own spirit-level existence—something I’d learned about from Alexander, but never actually experienced before now. That explained the isolation, the stark appearance, the way it wasn’t quite clear whether the barriers were keeping outsiders away, or keeping us in. This was my mind’s interpretation of those concepts and ideas which made up her being. And, like any simple representation of a very complex thing, it had to incorporate layers and layers and layers of subtlety and symbolism to get all the points across.


Considering what I’d learned about Aiko, I was suspicious that bringing me here was not an inconsiderable gesture on her part, regardless of how useful it might be. Showing someone that representation of yourself isn’t something you do lightly. It’s easy to see too deeply.


“Okay,” I said, opening my eyes. “Think I’m better. Remind me to never, ever do that again.”


“Do what?” she asked.


“Travel twenty miles by raven,” I said, gazing out at the endless dark waters. “Think I went a little crazy for a minute there.”


“Speaking of which,” she said. “What the hell happened to you? The transmitter was on your floor, and Snowflake couldn’t tell me much except that there was a big fight. Like the bullet holes hadn’t conveyed that already.”


Snowflake. Where had she been? It hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but normally she wouldn’t have missed a fight like that for the world. That bore looking into.




“Jon happened,” I said simply. “With half a dozen thugs. Knocked me out and absconded with me. I believe next up on the menu is light torture, followed by being killed and metaphysically consumed when I refuse to talk.”


“Screw that,” she said. “I did not get you a custom-made suit of armor just so you could get your ass killed without even using the thing.”


I grinned. “I was hoping you’d say that. Fortunately, I happen to know where I’m being kept. If you’d like, I can probably tell you how to get there.” I laid it out in simple, blunt terms.


“Should I bring in the vampire? Found her business card in your pocket.”


I blinked. “You were rifling my pockets?”


She shrugged. “Worked, didn’t it?”


I frowned. “Four hours ’til sunset. I kinda doubt I have that long.” I paused as a horrible thought occurred to me. “Aiko…this place, it’s not like the Otherside, is it?”


She looked confused for maybe half a second, then laughed. “The time dilation thing? No. The opposite, actually. Time does pass here, but slower than in the real world. Call it a minute here to a second there, that’s close enough.”


I sighed in relief, closing my eyes. “That’s a relief. For a second there….” I didn’t bother finishing the sentence.


When I opened my eyes, the world was utterly different. Or, more accurately, my perception of the world had shifted. Unless maybe it was Aiko’s perception. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that she was the one imposing her views on…what? There didn’t seem to be an underlying structure to this not-place. Maybe that made sense, considering that it was Aiko I was looking at. Stability wasn’t really her thing.


Anyway, now we were walking idly through a city, but a city unlike any I had ever seen before. I was moving, in that smooth loping rhythm you sometimes get when you’ve been walking for a while. The moment I became aware of my own motion I stopped, almost tripping as I realized that I wasn’t actually consciously moving.


The buildings were all white stone, perfectly clean and antiseptic-looking. It was curiously, unsettlingly beautiful, like a blossom of nightshade in a vase. The sky was flat pearl-grey, without either clouds or sun, but there was light nevertheless, almost blindingly intense as it reflected off all the white.


There were no doors in the buildings, no windows. Where they should have been were only decorative arches filled with more stone.


And there was not another living thing there but us. Somehow I knew that this would be the case, no matter how far we walked. There would be open courtyards but no parks, yards but no grass, empty bins but no rubbish, no scavengers come to eat it. This wasn’t a place that was friendly to life. Each and every blank stone arch seemed to have something horrible behind it, seemed almost like the reason there were no doors was because they had been bricked up to keep something in.


I wondered whether, if I were to go break down the walls, things might come out. Monsters, demons from the nether reaches of pseudoreality? That seemed unlikely. Horrible memories from Aiko’s life? Or, worse, the worst parts of who she was?


Or, scariest of all…what if the reason there were bad things behind those arches was because I’d put them there?


I did the smart thing and pushed it from my mind.


“What about Kyra?” Aiko was saying, seeming oblivious to the change in our surroundings. I had to hurry to catch up with her, although we didn’t seem to be making any progress down the promenade we had found ourselves on. The other side looked exactly as distant as before, the buildings not changing in size the way perspective would normally make them, nor were the buildings to the side moving in relation to us. When I glanced back, though, the other end of the square was getting farther away at a normal rate. If I’d had the time I would have gotten a headache.


“Kyra…” I frowned. “There’s something funny going on there. I trust her, I think that she’s probably telling the truth, I think she has my best interests at heart. And yet, for all of that, there’s…something not quite right about it. Something fishy.”


“I don’t suppose you have anything more specific?”


“Of course not,” I said sourly. “If I had something specific, I would have told you that instead. But…I really think there’s something up. She contacted me in a weird way when this particular mess started. She seemed awfully quick catching on, too. And then there was that construct.”


She frowned. “I thought she saved you from the construct.”


“Well, sure. But how did it get loose? She was strong enough to rip the thing’s freaking head off without breaking a sweat, but not enough to keep a hold? Then, once it did get away from her, she killed it fast. So fast that it almost makes you wonder….”


“Whether she wanted it dead from the beginning,” she concluded. “To keep it from talking, maybe. Or whatever it is that constructs do.”


I shrugged helplessly. “I can’t put my finger on it, Aiko. But I don’t want her any more involved with this than she already is.”


“Hey,” she said, shrugging. “You know her better than me. Your call.” There was a brief silence. “So. Vampires are out. Werewolves are out. I’m not making bargains with the fae. Think there’s a chance of mages?”


“Not so much. Either Luke or one of his cronies—or, if I have any idea at all how this kind of guy operates, at least two and probably more—are shilling for Jon, like we expected. Be suicide to bring them in.” I hadn’t noticed the transition, but we weren’t walking aimlessly across an empty, open square anymore. We were climbing a tight, walled-in spiral staircase, all of it more white stone, surrounding us completely. There were small, strangely shaped windows in the walls. Not just a little strange, either; I saw at least one right triangle which had three right angles. Looking out them revealed a seemingly infinite expanse of sky, grey and misty like that above the city we had been walking through. It seemed like we were still in that city, except that a tower this tall should most certainly have been visible from a ways off, and I hadn’t seen any such thing. I didn’t see any other buildings out the windows, either.


“I know that,” Aiko said scornfully. “I meant that old man you work for. The wizard.”


“Alexander?” I considered it. “It’d be nice,” I said. “He’s freaking scary when he puts his mind to it. But I don’t think it’ll work. He’s not keen on sticking his neck out, and he doesn’t like me that much.”


“So we bribe him.”


“A good thought,” I conceded. “But unless you’re a lot richer than you look, not gonna work. The man got at least ten grand for a set spell that he made in under three hours. Without leaving his lab, or exposing himself to any danger worse than eyestrain.”


“Oh.” She paused again. “So it’s just me, then?”


I grimaced and looked away. We both knew that that was pretty much a suicide mission, one that was likely to fail anyway. We also both knew that, if she had to, she would do it anyway, and die laughing. That was who Aiko was.


“Snowflake,” I said eventually. “She’ll help you. And….” I frowned. “Go to my lab. There’s that skeleton, the one you gave me. It’s the vessel for the demon I summoned. I told him to obey your orders. His contract doesn’t include violence, but he might be willing anyway.”


“I thought that place was warded.”


“They shouldn’t stop you if you go there with the intent of finding that building, specifically. Just don’t mess with anything inside and you’ll be fine.”


She took a deep breath, then nodded. “Okay. You’d probably better leave now. Might take me a minute or two getting out of here, then an hour and change to that house. Um…better call it two hours, be on the safe side. If I’m not there by then, assume that I’m dead and you have to figure out something else.”


I frowned. “How hard is it to leave this place?”


She shrugged. “For you? Should be just like waking up.”


“And for you?”


“I made it. Unmaking it’s my job. Now get out of here. You’ll just distract me, anyway.”


We climbed out of the enclosed staircase, from light into darkness, emerging on the same desolate, wind-blasted tower rooftop as before, looking out over the starlit seas. I glanced back, only to see that the tower was as bare as ever. There was no entrance, no sign whatsoever of the tall staircase we had climbed, or the barren city beneath, and no windows in the walls below us. The breeze was picking up, the water stirring into swells that would be terrifying on a boat, the air cold enough that even I began feeling it. Aiko’s eye had a strange, slightly unnerving fey light to it, and her teeth looked very sharp as she smiled.


“Good luck,” I said. And then I closed my eyes one more time.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.23

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Okay. So that was probably a bad idea. I mean, making deals with Loki has a tendency to be hazardous to your health. Laufey’s son was quite possibly the single most terrifying person I’d ever met. More importantly, as far as I could tell, he was completely honest about his motivations. It appeared that he really was concerned only with his own amusement, in seeing interesting things.


Now, don’t get me wrong. That’s not the worst ambition in the world. I could appreciate that attitude, could even envy it. The problem was that it made him utterly untrustworthy. For example, the only other time I’d made a deal with him, he took advantage of a loophole in the wording of our bargain to set me up with a forged invitation, which got me thrown in prison. Not because he was incapable of arranging a real one, you understand. Just because he thought it was a hilarious prank.


The same thing might well happen here. If he thought it would be more amusing to, say, go tell Jon that I was getting loose in order to arrange a dramatic confrontation between us, he would. He had no particular reason not to, after all.


On the other hand, he would probably let me be for at least a little while. Unless he was playing a very subtle game, my efforts to fix my situation would make things more interesting. As long as I kept him amused, he’d leave me alone.


So I’d better get moving.


Actual escape was, of course, out of the question. Even if I’d had Loki undo my restraints, my chances of getting out were so small that you’d have to use scientific notation to estimate them. Up against Jon, any allies he had, and an unknown number of armed guards, I would most likely be caught and killed very quickly.


On the other hand, I didn’t really have to escape. I didn’t even really want to. I was in Jon’s inner sanctum, after all.


The same place I’d been working so hard just to find.


I didn’t want to leave, not until I’d dealt with the mage. I just had to get enough firepower into place to actually do so.


And, by some fortunate coincidence, the barriers preventing me from communicating with the outside world had been removed.


It took me a few minutes to get into the right headspace, but I’ve always been good at focusing under pressure. It wasn’t long before I slid inside the mind of a raven, watching the house from his perch in a nearby tree. At my urging he flew up and away, carving effortlessly through the air.


I hadn’t been kidding when I told Aiko that the things I can do with my magic are addictive, and flight is a serious contender for the top position. I’ve never done drugs, never seen much of a reason to, but I imagine that it’s a comparable rush. Humans have been dreaming of flying for ages now, probably since before their earliest ancestors started walking upright. In recent years we’ve figured it out somewhat, with airplanes and parachutes and wingsuits. But I think most people still secretly harbor a great longing for the idea of simply flying, without the accoutrements, nothing between you and the ground but your own strength and skill.


That was what I felt. The struggle of fighting gravity with nothing but our strength and determination. The immensely rewarding satisfaction of success. The lazy, confident relaxation afterward, gliding on a thermal.


It doesn’t matter how often I do it. Flying is still one of the most amazing things I’ve ever felt. Every time I experience it, I’m reminded of how easy it would be to just…let go. Just throw the door wide and let it all come rushing in. So easy to not be me anymore.


There are days when that’s an awfully tempting prospect. No more pain, no more fear. Never have to worry again. Never have to deal with problems again.


Maybe someday I’ll give in to that urge. Maybe someday I’ll let it all go and see what my magic can really do.


Not today.


I had the raven circle overhead a few times, to orient myself. I discovered, to my moderate surprise, that I knew where I was. Jon had himself a house out in the countryside. Way out in the countryside, situated out in the woods not far from Cripple Creek. I’d spent some time hiking in the area, and I recognized some of the landmarks.


The building itself looked like some pretty nice digs. The house was about as big as Kyra’s, and looked to have at least a few undeveloped acres around it. Expensive place. It was a little unusual, though, in that there wasn’t a driveway leading to the house. There wasn’t even a clearly marked trail to the door. It isn’t common for even a remote house to be that isolated. There are only a handful of reasons why you’d build one that way, and none of them are good.


Given my current circumstances, that was not a pleasant thought.


Okay. Phase one, accomplished. I knew where I was. Now to tell someone who could actually do something about it. I prompted the raven some more. He complained, but was eventually mollified by the promise of plentiful food to come later.


He didn’t really believe me, of course. Ravens aren’t stupid. They are, in fact, quite intelligent, more so than a lot of mammals. But he was amused and intrigued by what was going on, and he was willing to play along.


Colorado Springs was at least sixty miles away by road. Thankfully, the road was winding and took a ridiculously long loop out of the way. I was probably only around twenty miles away as the crow flies. And, as it turns out, as the crow flies is a pretty fast way to travel.


The problem was that magic is limited in range. That was why, for example, Jon had come to confront me personally. He could have cast the same spell from a mile away, but his magic would have experienced such severe decay that only maybe one percent of the power he used would have actually reached me, while I would be acting with my full force. Under those conditions I could quite likely have stopped him in his tracks.


Better yet, it decays faster the further away you get, in an exponential way. (For those of you more inclined to mathematics, it can most simply be described as an inverse-cube relationship with respect to the distance involved, multiplied by a value proportional to the inverse of the power input squared. Realizing how much I hate math, you will perhaps see why higher level magic is my own personal, customized Hell. It’s like being told that the only way you can have sex with the woman you love is if you’re lying on a bed of nails.)


For most types of magic, my functional limit is about twenty yards. At that point almost a third percent of the effort I make is lost as seepage. I guess theoretically I could push it further, but why bother? The most I could generate with that steep of a penalty would be a mildly stiff breeze, whereas if I waited for the enemy to come close I could hit them with gale-force winds.


Mental magic with animals is different for a couple reasons. One, it’s what I’m good at, and that makes an enormous difference. Everyone’s got one thing that comes naturally when it comes to magic, and this was mine. Two, the actual power investment is relatively tiny. It helps that I don’t really have to do anything; compulsion, or a sleep spell like Jon had hit me with, takes a whole bunch more work than just lingering and occasionally whispering something.


On the other hand, I’d never tried to reach much further than two miles or so before. By my best guess, I was currently at least ten times that far away from help. I was not at all sure that I could do that.


I didn’t have any better ideas, though. So I hung around in the raven’s mind and, occasionally, murmured a course correction.


The first twenty minutes or so were easy. I was feeling the strain, granted, but it wasn’t a serious pressure. We traveled seven miles, give or take. Not bad, all things considered.


By the forty-minute mark, well, not so much. I wasn’t really seeing the ground below us at that point, wasn’t even feeling the strain in our muscles. I’d stopped even trying to give directions. I wasn’t even dimly aware of my own body by then—I couldn’t afford the distraction—but I knew that, if I were, I would be feeling the effort physically as well as mentally by this time. Maintaining the connection at this distance was a struggle, draining power faster than I could replace it. I could feel the bond between me and the raven straining, and it was taking more and more magic to keep it from breaking completely.


We hit the edge of the city at around an hour into the trip. It took me several minutes to realize that the bird was trying to get my attention. He was starting to get tired, he’d ceased to be amused some time before, and he wanted to know where to go next. Honestly, in retrospect, I’m surprised he bore with me that long.


Thinking through the fog was difficult. Dividing my concentration even by that much was enough to almost snap my connection to the raven, and I knew that if I lost it even for an instant at this point I’d never get it back.


Aiko. The kitsune was still my best bet. She was, as a matter of fact, my only bet. Where to find her, though?


My house. She might be at my house looking for me, or…something. If she wasn’t there then I’d…do something else. Yeah. That was a great idea.


The bird kept moving forward obediently. We blinked, and the next time I became aware of our surroundings was ten seconds later. I was nearing my limits. The torturer could have already started to work on me, back in Jon’s stronghold, and I wouldn’t even know it in this condition. A comforting thought, actually.


Circling over my house. There was a car out front. Nudge the raven to go closer. Circling, circling, tighter now. Black sedan. Not especially clean. Parked illegally.


Aiko’s car, my brain informed me from somewhere very far away. That was important for some reason. We circled lower. Landed. Pecked at the door.


Human. Dark hair. Thin face. Eyes were kind. Female. Knelt beside us. Confusion on her face. Her lips—how strange, not to have a beak—moved. Some part of me recognized the appearance of speech, but I couldn’t hear anything over the blood rushing through my head. Wait. I couldn’t really hear that, could I? How could I hear that?


Vision dissolved, plunging me into a very confused darkness.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.22

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Waking up was a difficult process. I became aware, first off, that I was uncomfortable. Not like horrifically or anything, just in an awkward position. My vision was strange, dark and red, and for a moment I was terrified that I had gone strangely blind before it occurred to me to open my eyes.


When I did, I was staring straight into a bank of fluorescent lights. The glaring light seemed to clear my head a little, and I started taking stock of my situation.


I was in a strange room, alone, tightly restrained, and naked. If you’ve ever had cause to say that sentence, you have my sympathies, because I see no way that situation could be good. Also, believe me, no matter how bad yours seemed, I was worse off. At least, I hope so. If not you might want to consider seeking professional help.


I was spread-eagled on my back on what felt like a doctor’s examination table. The steel was cold against my bare skin, pushing me further into reality. My hands were cuffed somehow, above my head and at an acutely uncomfortable downward angle. If I tried to squirm I had an excellent chance of dislocating a shoulder. Not a fun time. My legs were straight, but otherwise in similar condition. The metal band around my forehead prevented me from getting a good look, but in my peripheral vision I could see what looked like a heavy-duty set of handcuffs around my ankles. Even if I could get any leverage, which I couldn’t, I doubted that even lycanthropic strength would be enough to break them.


“Okay,” I said aloud. “So he’s got you. That’s okay, man. Don’t panic. You’ll find a way out.”


I closed my eyes against the light, not that it did a whole lot of good, and focused on what I could find out with magic. The room I was in was small, barely ten feet square, and from the way the air moved I was guessing there was only one door. No window, no furnishings except for the table I was strapped to.


I discovered, to my intense discomfort, that I couldn’t figure out anything past that point. As far as my magical senses went, the rest of the world didn’t exist. There was some kind of ward in the walls past which I could neither see nor act.


Okay, that was just great. This might put some serious crimps in the plan. It seemed like a really good time to move to Plan B. Unfortunately, I’d never even got around to a Plan A.5.


“Don’t panic,” I said again, trying to forestall the acknowledgment that I already was. “Don’t panic, man. If he was just going to kill you, he’d have done it already. You can figure something out.”


I don’t know how long I lay there, growing increasingly scared and uncomfortable and trying to avoid thinking about my circumstances. As it turns out, serious discomfort, immobility, and knowing that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it are nearly as good as intricate magic for screwing with your sense of time. It felt like weeks, but it couldn’t have been more than an hour before the door opened.


There was a brief silence, then a sigh. “I should have known,” Jon muttered. Suddenly the light above my head flicked off, leaving me blinking in the sudden, comfortable darkness before another, dimmer light turned on. I heard footsteps coming closer, then a faint ratcheting noise. In short order my head and hands were free, and I sat up, rubbing the kinks out of my back.


“Sorry about that,” he said. “I ordered my men to confine you, without telling them how. I should have known they would take the opportunity for a little revenge.”


I turned to look at the mage incredulously. He’d ditched the cloak, staff, and wand, but otherwise looked pretty much the same. “Are you apologizing to me?”


“Is it really that hard to believe?” he asked, leaning casually against one of the concrete walls.


“Well, last time I checked you were trying to freaking kill me, so yeah, it kinda is.”


He sighed. “Winter, if I wanted you dead do you really think you would have just woken up?” He shook his head. “I don’t have anything against you, personally. If it weren’t for your own grievance against me, we wouldn’t have needed to meet under such unpleasant circumstances. There’s no reason for us to be enemies.”


I wanted to spit and curse and laugh in his face. But…frankly…I wasn’t in a position to do it. He could kill me right now with about as much effort as it took to open a can of soda, assuming you’re not arthritic. So instead I said, “Let me guess. This is the old ‘join or die’ spiel.”


“I’m considering it, certainly,” he said mildly. “You show a certain amount of promise. You have potential. A few years study with me and you could realize it. I could teach you things that Hoffman, whatever he might claim, is too timid to ever show you.”


“Yeah,” I sneered. “Just like you taught Luke. Or Olivia, for that matter.”


“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, a touch of mockery coloring his own tone. “They are nothing, compared to the likes of us. They were never more than a tool in my hand. What I am proposing to you is entirely different. A partnership, of sorts.”


“Yeah? Let’s say I’m not interested in what you have to teach.”


“In that case,” he said, not seeming particularly put out, “you don’t have to. Tell me how much your friends know and you can walk away.”


I waited a moment, but it seemed that he had nothing more to say. “That’s it?” I asked incredulously. “You’d let me go?


“Of course,” he said. Seeing my expression, he laughed, a sound like dusty parchments rasping against each other. “I am not a psychopath, Winter. I do not kill indiscriminately or without reason. If I were to kill everyone who isn’t in some way useful to me, there wouldn’t be all that many people left, would there? I have no grievance against you. Granted, if you decide to continue working against me I won’t be able to protect you. But otherwise there’s no reason you have to be my enemy.”


“What about the vampire?” I asked.


“Ah. The vampire, I had a grievance against. Besides,” he said dismissively. “It was just a vampire. Not even human anymore. Killing such things is a favor to the world.”


Have you ever been talking with someone and suddenly realized that, although you don’t actually disagree with anything they just said, you are enormously terrified that a mind capable of forming those thoughts exists? No? Just me, then?


Anyway, that was how I felt right then. I didn’t really think Jon was wrong about that. Nothing I had learned about vampires made me want to keep the horribly, literally bloodsucking things safe and sound. Jon himself seemed remarkably polite and reasonable, as evil sorcerers go. Or, to use a more accurate term from the inaccurate litanies I had learned growing up, an evil witch. He seemed to have a real flair for the mental stuff.


But…how far of a trip was it from that to killing Aiko? She wasn’t human either, after all. And, from certain perspectives, she was probably a dangerous monster who was hazardous to be around. And yet, in spite of that, I liked her.


Or the werewolves. They killed people too, sometimes. There were packs that were involved in extortion, in the drug trade, packs that hired out as mercenaries for the highest bidder regardless of the worthiness of their cause. Certainly there were werewolves who I would say deserve to die. That didn’t mean that I thought the species should be eradicated.


Where did I draw the line? More important, did I even have the right to draw that line at all?


I’m not a spectacularly good man. But you would have to be an ego freak of monumental proportions to make that claim.


“Not interested,” I told Jon. I wasn’t going to help in that cause. Not even through inaction. Not even if it meant my death.


He looked down at me, his expression reminiscent of a disappointed father. “You realize, of course, that this is a futile and ultimately quite pointless dramatic gesture. All that will happen is that you will hurt a great deal. From your reputation I doubt that this will convince you to tell me what you know, but I have to try. When that’s over, I will consume you. You will die, and in dying you will make me stronger. Your friends will still die. And you will have sacrificed yourself for nothing.”


I swallowed. “I know.”


“You should be aware, as well,” he continued relentlessly, inexorably, “that I found that tracking device before we even left your house. No one will be coming to save you.”


Well, shit. There went my hole card.


“Are you sure you won’t change your mind? This is, I’m afraid, your very last chance.”


I thought about it for a moment. Then I grinned.


When in doubt, go for the dramatic finish.


“You know something, Jon? You can kill me, sure. But you won’t survive me by much. And when you go to Hell…when you’re passing me by on the way to the lowest Circle they have…I just hope they let me loose long enough to stab you on the way down.” I grinned wider, and I knew that there was an edge of hysteria to the expression, an edge of madness. “So yeah, I’m sure. You want an answer, Jon? Fuck off and die. That’s your answer.”


He regarded me. Cool. Level. Dispassionate. “Very well,” he said calmly. He turned and walked out. A moment later a pair of thugs, much like the ones I’d killed, came in and restrained me once again. They cranked everything a little tighter, this time. One of them spat on me before they left. He gut-punched me hard enough that I thought I was about to throw up, too, drawing a disapproving mutter from his partner. There was nothing I could do about it. Then they left, leaving me alone with the light and the voices that had started gibbering in my head from stark, unreasoning fear.


“Okay,” I said, once they were gone. “You can panic now.”


The gap wasn’t as long this time. It felt like only about ten minutes of terror and slowly growing despair. I searched again and again for some way out, but nothing presented itself. The blocks preventing me from projecting my power or consciousness beyond the walls of the room were too solid, too well-crafted for me to do anything about. Given several uninterrupted hours I might be able to take them down, but that didn’t seem likely to happen.


The door never opened, but suddenly there were footsteps behind me. They were quiet, but seemed to echo strangely around the room, the sound hanging in the air weirdly. “Well, well, well,” a male voice said sardonically, one that I almost recognized. “Look what we have here.”


“What do you want?” I said, unable to keep the snarl entirely out of my voice. I’m not fond of captivity, and I have an unfortunate tendency to lash out at the nearest target when I’m stressed.


“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, and I suddenly remembered where I’d heard that voice before. “Entertainment, I suppose.”


My heart sank. “Of course you do,” I said bitterly. “Loki.”


He walked around into my field of view, and I saw that I had guessed correctly. He was wearing more or less the same body I’d seen him in before, with red-blond hair and a scarred mouth, along with cowboy boots and a floor-length duster. Appearance-wise, he was a little unnerving, but no more than I was.


Only the eyes gave his nature away. Where most people had normal eyes, Loki had what a charitable person might describe as freaking weird. Instead of a pupil, iris, and white, he had a mad swirl of color, orange and green like trees on fire. The colors moved and danced weirdly, distractingly. It was hard to look away from, although I knew that making eye contact with one of the scariest gods around was a bad idea.


“Excellent show,” he said, continuing to walk slowly around me. “I particularly enjoyed your chat with our good host, there. Although I must say, you’ve been using quite a lot of Christian references in your threats recently. Perhaps you should try something new. You can always drop my name, if you’d like. That seems to get a good reaction sometimes.”


“You were watching that?”


“Of course,” he said, sounding vaguely insulted. “You’re amusing enough, in your way. Better than any of the other channels on at the moment.”


“Yeah?” I said. “‘Cause I’m not seeing much entertainment in the near future for either of us. Unless you’re into that kind of thing, I guess. Which, from your reputation, isn’t terribly unlikely, is it?”


“That’s why I’m here,” he said, grinning his mad cruel grin. “Do I ever have a deal for you.”


“Yeah? That’s funny, because I almost remember making a deal with you once before. As I recall, I got utterly screwed. Ring any bells?”


“Funny you mention that,” he said. “See, last time you were imprisoned, I put you there. No point holding grudges, though, is there? You escaped, after all.”


My head was starting to hurt. “What does that have to do with this?”


“Nothing, of course,” he said, winking cheerily. “And everything. Which you should probably have guessed. Anyway, the point is that I’m willing to give you the opportunity to make a comeback appearance. I can snap those bonds for you—seen and unseen alike.”


“At what price?”




I rolled my eyes, although I doubt he saw it. He was almost behind me again. “Yeah, right. Nothing’s free.”


“All right,” he said. “If you want to put it like that…the problem with your escape from Ryujin’s palace was that it was far too tame. Better than staying put, granted, but still utterly boring. Too much help on the inside, if you ask me. I’m hoping this time you’ll put on a better show. Something worth watching. And tweak that arrogant ass’s nose while you’re at it, which would be worth it to me by itself.”


I considered that for a moment. “You can break the magic protecting this room as well?”


“Didn’t I just say that? Obviously I can.”


“Without Jon knowing?”


He looked at me disapprovingly out of eyes gone mad with motion. “I almost think you don’t trust me. Of course I can do that. I am the Unmaker, boy, the Breaker of Ties and Lord of Destruction. Don’t treat me like some petty mortal hack.”


I swallowed dryly. “Do that, then. Rip down those protections—but leave the physical stuff in place.”


“Interesting,” he noted, and I got the impression that he had seen the entirety of my desperate scheme in that moment. “A daring plan. I look forward to seeing whether you can pull it off.”


The God of Liars stopped in front of me, looking at me seriously with his inhuman eyes. He raised one hand and saluted me solemnly. Then he vanished without a trace or whisper of magic, taking all the wards with him as he went.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.21

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


“‘Satan himself will laugh,’ eh?” Aiko said as we drove off. “You’re lucky I didn’t break down laughing. Would’ve ruined the atmosphere.”


I grinned. “You think you had it bad? Imagine how I felt. I had to say it with a straight face.”


“Although I did like the bit with the demons,” she said thoughtfully. “Had real panache. Not that I know what panache means. Still, it was nice. Lyrical, even. Like something out of Shakespeare.”


“Might have come out of Shakespeare for all I know,” I said cheerily. “I never did read that crap.”


“Lucky,” she muttered. “Think they bought it?”


“One of ’em did,” I said grimly. “At least. And that’s all it takes.” I paused. “But, probably, yes. They seemed pretty fond of the melodrama and ridiculous speeches. I figure, speak to ’em in their language, that’ll get the point across. Think it worked.”


“Great news,” she said. “How long you think we have?”


I frowned, estimating calculations in my head. “Call it an hour to get the message across. Another twenty minutes to organize a reaction. Maybe fifteen to implement it. Hour and a half, tops?” I shrugged.


“Guess we better get a move on, then,” she said, accelerating well past the speed limit.


On the way back I got a phone call. I listened to the slightly panicked voice on the other side. I spoke a few words to him, as gently as I could, and hung up.


“Word?” Aiko asked me.


“That was Luke,” I said, frowning. “Apparently Erica decided to go confront Jon and see what he has to say for himself.”


“Think she’s a plant?” the kitsune asked lightly.




“We should probably step up our timetable then.”


Aiko dropped me off at my cabin and left. It was necessary, for this plan to work, that I do the next part solo.


I grabbed Tyrfing and belted it on. Slipped my pistol on, grabbed my shotgun and slung it over my shoulder, the whole ten yards. Which, again, is a ridiculous phrase, considering that I’ve never been all that fond of football. I left the armor, but other than that I had my entire kit.


Like I said, it’s a delicate balancing act between seeming too casual, and looking like you’re ready for World War III. In this case it was even harder, because Jon knew that I knew that he wanted me dead. given my reputation and that fact, he would rapidly get suspicious if I didn’t seem prepped for a fight. On the other hand, if I overprepared by much, he might start wondering what else I’d done to get ready, which would pose serious problems. This plan was kind of counting on him not thinking in that vein. If he started considering that topic, it wouldn’t be hard for him to figure out what I was planning, in which case I was about to die in a distinctly unpleasant manner.


Eventually I got the balance right. Then, just when I was getting ready to leave, I was interrupted by a coldly unemotional voice from behind me, in my kitchen. It said:


“Drop your weapons, Wolf. It’s over.”


I froze and turned to face the voice.


It was, quite obviously, Jon. The fox’s vision of him had been blurry, dulled both by the passage of time and the fact that I was looking through another being’s eyes, but still remarkably accurate. Tall, a little on the thin side, he looked like he was in early middle age but had a confident demeanor that somehow suggested that he was a fair bit older.


The accoutrements were new. He was wearing dusty black clothes, including a full-length hooded cloak that should have been ridiculous but, instead, actually made him look kinda scary. There was a wand on one hip, and an elaborately decorated knife rode on the other. He was holding a staff, of course, a thick shaft of wood as tall as he was. It was pale and greyish, making me think of maple weathered and aged by long use and exposure to the elements. There was a ruby pendant prominently displayed on his chest. Overall, he practically radiated the “evil wizard” theme so strongly I could taste it.


Oh yeah, and he had half a dozen lackeys with him. They were human goons, big men holding assault rifles, and carrying pistols and grenades and probably other things, too. They all looked confident, though it ranged from the expression of a person looking forward to the prospect of hurting someone to the casual, bored look of a professional for whom violence isn’t a terribly exciting thing, in either direction.


I, of course, immediately judged the second category to be the greater threat by far. Professionals are generally much more dangerous than lunatics. Insanity might make you harder to predict, but it has disadvantages too.


“Drop the weapons,” Jon repeated, not sounding terribly excited. “It’s over.”


I licked my lips nervously, thinking. There was a chance that this could still work out. I hadn’t been expecting him to move this fast. I sure as hell hadn’t expected the gunmen. But, well, you never know. I might win.


“Last chance.”


A plan formed and crystallized in my head in an instant. I spent one more precious moment considering it, but I didn’t see any obvious flaws—besides, you know, the obvious ones. The timing would have to be absolutely perfect, and it depended on luck to an uncomfortable extent, but if it worked it might even the odds.


I dropped my hand to my belt, and unclipped Tyrfing. At the same time I undid the clasp holding it into place, the motion small enough that hopefully none of them had noticed. I threw the sword forward to clatter at their feet, a dramatic gesture that just happened to also be totally meaningless.


Because the sword also slid out of the scabbard. Just a little bit. Maybe three inches.


I took my time about the rest of it. I dropped the shotgun off my shoulder and straight to the ground beside my feet, then bent over to put the pistol next to it. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, I removed things from my pockets and piled them on the ground. A leather pouch full of magically charged dust, another pouch filled with ball bearings, a couple ammo boxes, a set of lockpicks. Anything and everything that could conceivably be used as a weapon I took out and put on the floor. It took about five minutes.


That would have to be enough.


Then, as I pulled out my rope and dropped it to the ground, I also palmed a little chunk of crystal. Then things started to move very, very quickly.


I threw the crystal in their direction, closed my eyes and turned my head to one side, and focused my will on the stone. I had designed the thing to react to my power, and it did so marvelously. The spell that I had sealed into the structure of the crystal released, very suddenly and with tremendous force.


It had been the first stored spell I made, and I had deliberately done something about as simple as possible. Light is, after all, a very pure and very simple release of energy. No complicated structure or ideas, no elaborate effects. Just a sudden flash of light comparable to a flashbang. There was no noise, no heat, but suddenly the room was filled with an illumination that was painful even behind my closed eyes.


In the same movement, I dove to the side. Not a moment too soon, either; they were reasonably good marksmen, and they reacted instantly to my motion as I released the stone. Half a dozen assault rifles sent a veritable fusillade of bullets my way. They were temporarily blinded, which was the only reason I survived the first moment of the fight, but they were still filling the hallway where I was standing with enough lead that a few hits were inevitable. I felt a hot sting above my right hip as I dove. Then, while I was crouching in the corner, another round hit my left bicep, and a ricochet caught me in the calf.


I sat, and endured without making a sound that might give them something to aim at it. It was hard, just sitting while that hail of death proceeded all around me. One heartbeat. Two, and I started getting nervous.


Then, as I had known it must, something went wrong.


Tyrfing’s entropy curse had been searching for an opportunity, a way to turn events for the worse, and it had found one.


They were good men, as mercenaries go. Skilled, practical, and, perhaps most importantly, careful. But combat, especially under unexpected circumstances, is inherently chaotic. You can’t control or predict every variable, meaning that there’s always an element of chance.


And chance was what Tyrfing manipulated.


This time the crack was found in the bracing of a rifle against a man’s shoulder. Now, you should know that an assault weapon generates a tremendous amount of force in the form of recoil, especially when fired on full auto. Which, in their surprise and sudden panic, these men were doing. If you’re firing a relatively light round, you’re experienced, and you’re well braced, you can keep the gun under reasonably good control.


Unfortunately, one of the men was unlucky enough that the stock of the gun slipped. Without something to brace the weapon against, and caught by surprise, he was helpless.


The recoil did as recoil does, spinning him around.


Unfortunately for the other men, he didn’t have time to let go of the trigger. Even worse, he spun in such a way that they were raked by friendly fire. Then, in another tragic coincidence, one of them, being temporarily blind, assumed that there was an enemy right next to him, panicked, and returned fire.


All of this happened in a couple seconds. Then the magazines clicked empty and I opened my eyes again.


Six men were bleeding on my kitchen floor. Several of them were obviously dead, while others were merely on their way to that state.


Well, damn. I was right. Throwing Tyrfing at a group was, like, the ideal weapon.


Except that Jon wasn’t down. That, really, was the big problem with the situation. None of the bullets had even come close to him; there was literally a ten-foot circle around him that was totally, completely, impossibly untouched. Most of the walls looked like Swiss cheese, but that one section of the room was utterly pristine. The hooded mage was looking at the carnage with a mildly interested expression, and I realized with a sinking feeling that I hadn’t even rattled his cage.


He knelt to examine Tyrfing, looking slightly more intrigued now. I took advantage of his distraction to go for the shotgun.


He heard me, of course. I mean, the man wasn’t a complete idiot. He hadn’t forgotten I was there. He glanced in my direction, his eyes showing no more emotion than they had before, and flicked his fingers vaguely in my direction. His lips shaped one word, which I never heard.


As it turned out, there was a difference between Olivia and her master. I’d been able to fight off her mental attack, but I never even felt his. I was prepped, ready, and alert, and he still demolished me in an instant. Sudden darkness swamped me, and I was not only unconscious before I hit the floor, I was out before I knew I was falling.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


Filed under Uncategorized

Wolf’s Moon 3.20

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter


The wind rushed over my face as I fell, blew back my hair and my coat and roared in my ears. I was falling headfirst, straight toward the ground.


It was terrifying and gut-wrenching and, more than anything else, exhilarating. There is a reason people go skydiving, after all. It was an incredibly glorious sensation, feeling the air whip past me, seeing the lit windows of the hotel behind me blurring by in the night.


Of course, if I didn’t get my act together it would rapidly turn into a lethal sensation as well. I reached out, caught the wind streaming past me, and began to weave it into the right forms. As I fell I turned so that I was parallel to the ground, spread-eagled.


Flying is hard. Even with magic it’s a ridiculously hard thing to pull off. To really fly you have to direct the wind into pushing you in exactly the right direction, and with enough force to move your body weight against gravity. That’s a lot of force to overcome with air alone. On top of that, it means that once you get moving, you move fast. You have to, or else you start to fall. It’s hard to control, too, hard to change directions without breaking yourself or going out of control and hitting something.


All things considered, there aren’t very many people in the whole world who can fly with magic. I’m not one of them.


On the other hand, anybody can fall out of a window. That makes things easier. You don’t have to build up forces at that point; gravity does it for you. Granted, if you mess up it builds up enough force to turn you into an exceptionally messy pancake, but that’s the trade-off you make.


As I fell, I grabbed the wind and used it. First I nudged myself off course, pushing away from the building and slightly to one side so that I would land in a shadowed, quiet area away from prying eyes. As I did that I reached to the air underneath myself, thickening it and churning it into a wind that pushed up against me from below with significant force. It was a parachute, basically. I wasn’t trying to fly. I was just falling more slowly, in a graceful and controlled manner.


I didn’t drift to the ground like a feather. I didn’t hit like a sack of potatoes thrown out of an airplane either, though, so I was counting it as a victory. I struck the ground hard, about as hard as if I’d fallen from the second floor instead of the seventh (don’t ask how I know that, either) and rolled to disperse the momentum and keep from breaking my knees.


As far as I could tell, nobody had seen my exit. If they had (and for some reason told the truth to the police) they would immediately be dismissed as jokers or madmen. That had been part of why I’d done it the way I had, after all; everybody knows that a man doesn’t jump out of a seventh-story window and walk away unharmed. It was, in a somewhat lunatic way, much safer than climbing down.


Don’t you just love that? It was safer to jump out of the freaking window than take the elevator. God, I hate my life some days.


I walked away, quickly, in a random direction. I went about a mile, dropping my sunglasses in a trash can on the way. I’d gotten them on the cheap anyway. Tyrfing I leaned against the corner of a building in the alleyway. It would find its own way back. It always did.


Without those items I was significantly less conspicuous. Still a little strange looking, of course, but I’m used to that.


I stopped at a chain restaurant and had breakfast. I was polite and tipped well—I always do—but otherwise unremarkable. I didn’t think anyone would remember that I had been there. Then I walked about another mile in a different direction before calling another cab. It was, thankfully, not the same driver as before. That might have been awkward.


“How’d the armor work last night?”


“I have no idea,” I said. “I didn’t need it, remember?”


Aiko sniffed. “That’s pathetic. You didn’t use it even once? What kind of a fight is that?”


“The kind I won,” I said reasonably, scratching Snowflake’s ears idly. She was sleeping in her favorite place, which is to say on top of my feet.


“You won too easily. I expected better.”


Too easily? Is that even possible?”


“Of course,” she scolded me. “What could be more boring than an easy fight? I mean, you have to let them hit you at least once. It’s more exciting that way. Also, nobody bets against an obvious winner, so it’s hard to make a buck unless you at least make it look like a close fight. Unless you throw it, I suppose….”


I snorted. “What about that troll you killed when we were hitting Black’s compound? You didn’t even let the thing get close to you, never mind actually hitting you.”


“Entirely different,” she said airily. “That was graceful, elegant, and aesthetically pleasing. There are professional dancers that can’t look that good while beating someone up. Even if you gave them a sword. You’re a cheap thug by comparison.”


“You’re insane,” I told her. “You realize that, right? You are a menace to yourself and others. A certifiable lunatic. Also, possibly sociopathic. I never did get clear on quite what that means, but I think random violence to strangers has something to do with it.”


“Don’t forget vandal,” she said helpfully. “Or kleptomaniac, that one always sounds good.”


The worst part is that we weren’t entirely, or even mostly, joking. She really is all those things, excepting possibly the kleptomaniac. It’s not just drugging my food—that’s harmless, I know her, and she doesn’t do it when there’s weird shit going on anyway. No, my favorite was the time somebody cut her off in traffic, some jerk with an expensive new car who almost caused a wreck. You’ve probably had the same thing happen to you.


What you probably didn’t do was follow them home, slash their tires, wreck their engine, and generally ensure that their car would never run again. Luckily I’d talked her out of planting drugs in their house and then tipping off the cops. That goes a bit too far, in my opinion.


“So what will you do now?” she asked a few minutes later.


“Not sure,” I said. “I kinda doubt I can live and let live with this guy at this point. I don’t see much in the way of a peaceful resolution for this situation.” I sighed. “Unfortunately, I also don’t see how I can get at him. Dude’s freaking invisible. I guess I have to come up with some kind of plan to deal with him.”


“Funny you mention it,” she said in that too-innocent tone that is never safe, no matter who’s using it. “I actually have a plan already.”


I eyed her dubiously. “I don’t want to hear it, do I?”


“Almost certainly not.”


I sighed. “Tell me anyway.”


She did. It took a while, mostly because I kept interrupting with incredulous and caustic comments.


“You are a shitty planner,” I told her. “I have literally heard better plans than that proposed by a dog.”


“Got a better idea?”


“I hate it when you revert to logic,” I muttered. “And no.”


She grinned. It wasn’t a hostile expression, exactly, but it wasn’t comfortable to have aimed in my direction, either. Think Cheshire Cat.


“Fine. Let’s get to it.”


Aiko’s plan was particularly hard for me, because psychologically speaking, I’m a lone wolf. And no, I don’t mean any kind of pun by that. The plain truth is that I don’t run with a pack for a reason, and much of that reason is who I am.


Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a people-hater, nor do I turn away assistance when it’s offered (obviously). It’s more a matter of first reactions. When I find out about a situation, my impulse isn’t to ask for help or look for someone to tell me what to do. It’s to just go, figure out what to do about the problem, and get it done. Even when I do have help, I’m used to relying on myself. I’m not much good at team tactics.


This particular plan called for me to rely totally on others. Barring extraordinary luck and possibly divine intervention I couldn’t pull it off solo. If my allies decided to leave me out to dry, I was absolutely and utterly screwed. The target would probably be killed shortly afterward, but that wouldn’t be much comfort to me.


But I didn’t have a better idea. And Aiko’s logic, though not a chain that I would ever have conceived of, nevertheless seemed reasonably sound. In this situation, being idiosyncratic to the point of nigh-insanity was probably actually a benefit. There is something to the claim that lunatics are more dangerous than sane people, because they’re so hard to predict.


It was byzantine beyond rationality, but the essence was really very simple. Step one was to call Enrico. I had no way of contacting Luke, who was my only lead on finding Jon. However, he had let slip that one of his cohorts was a policeman named Mike, who had been the source of much of their information before they met Jon.


Now, I was sure there must be plenty of Mikes in an organization the size of the police force. But Mike had been getting information about supernatural monsters through the police force, and as far as I knew Enrico was the only cop in the city that could have provided that information. Enrico wouldn’t have talked to a stranger about that kind of thing, so I was pretty sure he would know which person I should ask.


As it turned out, he did. He asked what I wanted it for, of course, but I put him off.


I’ve done that a lot to him. I actually feel kinda guilty about it.


He was willing to let me get away with it, on the condition that I tell him if things got dangerous. I agreed, which was technically not a lie, because things were already dangerous. He gave me another number, which I promptly called. It rang seven times before a deep, unfriendly voice answered.


“Who is this?”


“You Mike Adams?”


“Yeah. Who are you?”


“My name’s Winter,” I said, grinning. “I hear you know Luke.”


There was a brief pause. Then, he said, “Ah. So that’s what this is about.” His voice, although not overtly hostile as it had been when he answered, was still guarded, untrusting.


“Yep. I think we need to talk.”


“Maybe,” he said guardedly. “Where?”


“The Full Moon Grill,” I told him.


What? The irony amused me.


“Fine. Half an hour.”


“Meet you there. Oh,” I added, “and bring the gang.” I hung up.


“Half an hour?” Aiko asked.


“Yeah. Give me a ride?”


“What, do I look like a cabbie to you?” she said, already holding her keys.


“Looks aren’t bad,” I said thoughtfully. “But the voice is wrong. You need a Middle Eastern accent, I think, and maybe a touch more sports-announcer. And sound angry. You might want to rant about immigrants not speaking English, even though you’re barely intelligible yourself. That’s always good for a laugh.”


“And you call me crazy,” she muttered.


We were the first ones there, taking the same upper-level table as the last time I’d been there. Such tiny amusements make life worth living, if you ask me. Especially when you don’t have access to the large amusements.


I’d left most of my gear at home, because it wasn’t legal to own. The gun, for example, and the knives. The armor, too, because it was conspicuous and wouldn’t do much to protect me from magic in any case. Besides which they’d be fools to attack me on my home ground. Not that I had any real advantages there, it’s not really my place, but they didn’t know that.


Of course, I’d still brought my other gear, the foci and stored-spells and such. They’d be fools to attack me, but I’d be just as idiotic not to assume that they would.


I ordered breakfast, too, of course. Technically it was closer to lunch, but I’d only woken up recently, a few minutes before Aiko got there. The food was about half gone when Aiko murmured, “Company,” not looking away from the food.


I followed her example, not showing any sign that I had noticed the new arrivals. Fortunately, today the bartender actually was a werewolf, one of the three or four who worked in the restaurant. In fur or out, a werewolf is close enough to an animal for me to work with. With a little magic I got an excellent view of the newcomers through her eyes.


There were about half a dozen of them, Luke Laufson in the lead. Next to him was a big, bluff-looking fellow who, judging by the basso quality of his muttering, was most likely Mike. The rest looked vaguely familiar, and overall they gave the same impression as the last time I’d seen them—which is to say that they looked various flavors of young, unsure, and slightly nervous.


They saw us immediately, of course. A few of them, including Luke and Mike, did a reasonably good job of not showing it. The rest were almost painfully obvious, one man even pointing at our table like an idiot. Mike winced when he saw it, although I suspect that was more because he was a cop than anything.


They lingered for a few minutes downstairs, although I don’t really know why. They must have known we were aware of their presence. Maybe they were waiting for Aiko to leave or something. In any case, when they did make their way up about five minutes later they’d been joined by another two people. Luke was still clearly the leader.


“Mr. Wolf,” he said politely, stopping a short distance from the table. “You had something you wanted to talk about?”


“Call me Winter,” I said. “Please. You’re missing some people.”


“Yes,” he said. “Mac was called in to work unexpectedly. Given that she works at the hospital it seemed somewhat…improper to ask her to come anyway. The others should be joining us shortly.”


“Excellent,” I said. “Maybe some introductions are in order?”


“I suppose so,” he said after a moment. “You already know me, of course, and I understand you’ve spoken with Michael as well. Then Katie’s over there, and that’s Brick Anderson next to her.”


I nodded and made polite sounds. Katie was a small, slight young woman with dark hair, who wore ratty jeans and a T-shirt and no makeup at all. I was betting she was from the college. Brick, which was an even stranger name than mine, was about the exact opposite. He was better than six five, thin as a beanpole (and just what is a beanpole, anyway? It’s ridiculous the comparisons we use, when you think about it), and had close-cropped blond hair.


Luke went around the group. The woman with frizzy blondish hair was Erica, who had been so confrontational the last time I saw these people. The silent man hanging around at the back, who kept his weight on the balls of his feet and who I was almost sure had been loitering around outside when we got there, went by Aubrey. Chuck was a sturdily built guy who looked about twenty-five, dressed in jeans and an oil-stained shirt. Matthew and James, who I was willing to bet went by Jimmy most of the time, were the ones who had arrived late. Kris, who was wearing a sundress and flip-flops, had been sitting at another table when we arrived.


I introduced myself as well, of course, and Aiko, though I didn’t say who she was or why she was there. None of them asked, which suggested either remarkable courtesy or astounding stupidity. With this gang, I wasn’t betting on politeness.


The really remarkable thing was that, now that I had the time and attention to spare, I could sort out each of their individual magics by scent. James, like Luke, smelled of fire and heated air, hungry. Brick smelled, essentially, like his namesake. Matthew, Kris and Chuck were sharper and musky, an aroma that reminded me of a werewolf without the lavender tones, while Erica’s power was light and fresh like a morning breeze off the sea. Katie, Aubrey, and Mike were subtler, trickier to figure, though I remembered Luke mentioning that Mike was a shaman.


“All right,” Luke said when that was finished. “That’s all of us. Mac’s at work, like I said, and Doug’s out of town today. What did you want to talk about?”


I frowned. There was something…funny about Luke. I felt like I should know him, somehow, although I couldn’t quite say why. Something in the way he so smoothly took control of things, like a masterful orchestra director, seemed uncannily familiar.


There was no point dwelling on it now, though. “You remember what I told you before?” I asked him. “About Jon.”


“Sure,” he said. The others didn’t look excessively confused, so I presumed that he’d filled them in. “Did you get any proof?”


“Nothing irrefutable,” I said darkly. “Incidentally, what did you call his apprentice? The woman you were going to meet with last night.”


“Olivia,” he said.


I grunted. “Well, that’s something. Same name she gave me. Speaking of which, she was also working for a vampire. The same one who…what do you call it when a vampire makes another vampire?” I asked suddenly. “None of you know? Darn. Anyway, she was the one who made the vampire that I think Jon killed.”


“And you think that’s going to convince us to side against him?” Luke was still the only one speaking up. I had to wonder just how unanimous they were. “We’re more likely to congratulate him for it than anything, you realize.”


“Two points,” I said. “One, I already told you why that’s not such a good idea. Two, don’t you think he should have at least told you? I mean, given that his apprentice was working with the vampire in question, it seems like common sense. Otherwise how would you know not to hit that particular nest?”


Aubrey spoke for the first time. “I notice that you’re speaking of her in the past tense,” he said, startling me a little.


“Oh,” I said. “Um. I take it that means you didn’t see it in the news.” A bunch of blank faces looked back at me, and I frowned. “Huh. I thought sure they would have found the body by now.”


Mike cleared his throat meaningfully. “I take it,” he said carefully, “that you did, in fact, kill Olivia.”


“In all fairness,” I said, “I feel I should point out that she attacked me. Also, I believe that she was an accomplice to at least one murder. Plus whatever fancy language you have for that. Conspiracy to something or other, I’m sure.”


He frowned disapprovingly. “Even if she was,” he said, “and that’s a big if, it doesn’t give you the right to take the law into your own hands.”


I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, you really think they’re going to buy ‘psycho magic ritual’ in the courts as a murder weapon?”


“Besides which,” Aiko said suddenly, “is it not the same as what you’re doing? I admit a certain unfamiliarity with your legal system, but I fail to see the difference between that and your brand of vigilante justice. Unless, perhaps, it’s that what he did was to a human you knew instead of the faceless, nameless horde that you call monsters. In which case perhaps you should reconsider the rightness of your own position.”


Mike looked like he’d swallowed a live eel.


“Do you have any proof of your statements?” Luke asked, dragging the conversation back onto topic by main force.


I shrugged. “Nothing that isn’t dependent on my word. Which, obviously, if you trusted me that much we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”


“I don’t think we can agree to act based on your suppositions.”


“Don’t blame you,” I said cheerfully. “I have a proposal for you, though.”


“This should be interesting,” he said with a small, humorless grin. The expression nagged at me, making me wonder again why I felt so strongly like I knew him.


“I’m going after Jon,” I said quietly. “I’m sure he’s the one who’s been behind this. And I’m going to take him down. I am not just going to kill him. I will visit such horror upon his head that it will be spoken of in whispers a dozen years hence. I will rain down fire and destruction on his house, and when I walk away there will not be two stones left standing. When I have finished with him even the demons that wait and watch in the darkness beyond our world and feed upon the misery we mortals inflict upon each other will cringe, and Satan himself will laugh when he sees the things I’ve done.” I smiled brightly. “And, you know, I figured there’s no reason for you to get caught in the crossfire. You seem like decent kids and, y’know, I’d really rather not kill you?” I grinned wider, leaned forward a little, lowered my voice. “If he calls…I’d suggest you not answer. You don’t have to help me. Just stay out of my way, and everybody goes home happy.”


We got up and left without another word. And, clever fellow that I am, I’d already eaten or pocketed all the food.


Think ahead, that’s my motto.

Previous Chapter                                                                                    Next Chapter

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized